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ELCA (the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) is in trouble… in fact, trends show number of churches is down significantly over the past ten years, and the number of people attending services is down significantly as well.  From the Orlando Sentinel: The Lutheran magazine’s January cover story is about the decline in membership and churches of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

ELCA Trends: Nearly 30 percent of ELCA churches average less than 50 people for Sunday services. Average worship attendance dropped 26 percent between 2003 and 2011. More than 1,000 ELCA churches have closed during the past 10 years, some merging with other congregations and some just shutting down.

The plight of the Lutherans is not unfamiliar to Protestant denominations. In 2012, less than half of Americans identified themselves as Protestants, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. “Nearly every U.S. Christian denomination has seen membership declines in the past two years, including Southern Baptists, who seemed invincible in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s,” Radziszewski writes. The Lutherans have tried to reverse the trend with Congregational Renewal Partnership grants, which provided 163 congregations with $2.5 million in 2011. The grants are for three years, but renewal often takes five to seven years, said Neil Harrison, director for Renewed Evangelizing Congregations. // Read more here… What do you think will happen to the ELCA.  Can they turn it around?
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Mars Hill Church DowntownMars Hill Church Downtown Seattle has relocated to the former home of the first church congregation in Seattle, which was opened in 1910 and was the church of Seattle’s founding families, the Dennys, Bells, and Borens.  Mars Hill welcomed over 1600 people at its grand opening this past Sunday, January 13, on a day when church attendance was expected to be low due to the Seattle Seahawks playoff game.

News anchor Angela Russell reported last week on Mars Hill Downtown’s, “There’s a new chapter in Seattle’s history tonight with the salvation of a downtown Seattle building that is over 100 years old. The new tenant, a church, is preserving the building and restoring its original use.” The church is leasing the historic building on Fifth Avenue and Marion Street known as Daniels Recital Hall, after selling its Belltown location to a company called PTI Western 2012, LLC. One of Mars Hill’s 14 locations, the downtown church was planted in 2008 in the former building of the notorious Tabella Nightclub. Four years later, the church has outgrown that space on Western Avenue, currently holding five weekend services (the most per week of any Mars Hill church). The new space more than doubles the seating capacity per service, which will allow the church to reach and serve more people in the community. “This is an incredible opportunity to be a ministry hub for downtown Seattle as it will allow us to better serve the business men and women in our city, as well as the homeless and marginalized, as we’re closer to one of our ministry partner, Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission,” says Tim Gaydos, lead pastor of the Downtown Seattle church. “Also, being closer to Capitol Hill is a blessing as we are serving and ministering to those who are infected with AIDS on the hill.” CrossCut News recently reported on some of the church’s community reach efforts. “We are looking forward to having a building that allows the Downtown Seattle church body so much room to grow. We hope to fill it with people who love Jesus and love Seattle,” says Mark Driscoll, preaching and vision pastor at Mars Hill Church The church held a Christmas Eve service as part of their soft launch. 2300 people packed the church that night for a great celebration with a choir, worship music, and live preaching from Pastor Mark Driscoll. They also collected canned goods, blankets, tube socks and food for the Union Gospel Mission.

First Baptist HammondFirst Baptist Church Hammond voted to accept John Wilkerson as its new pastor Sunday evening.

Wilkerson follows Jack Schaap, who left First Baptist Hammond last year after admitting to having sexual contact with a 16-year-old girl and transporting her across state lines to have sex with her (a federal offense).  Schaap is currently awaiting sentencing. According to news reports: Wilkerson graduated from Hyles-Anderson in 1989 and taught at the church’s City Baptist Schools for a year before moving to California to teach at a Baptist school in Long Beach. He became principal of Calvary Christian School in Baton Rouge, La. in 1993 and returned to California in 2000 to become the pastor of First Baptist Church of Long Beach. During Wilkerson’s tenure as pastor, the Sunday school program at First Baptist Church of Long Beach has grown in attendance from 849 to more than 1,700. The Wilkersons are parents to nine children. In August 2008, the couple’s 17-year-old son, Tyler, was killed in a car accident. The Sunday after his son’s death, Wilkerson presented a sermon entitled, “God Makes No Mistakes,” according to the First Baptist Church Web site. Wilkerson will begin at First Baptist Hammond on February 17. // Read more here…

Bud Brown shares some metrics that he thinks would make megachurches much more visitor friendly.  See if you agree.  He writes: Mega-church staff and pastors are trapped in a dilemma created by the Church Growth movement – the assumption that bigger is better and that attendance inevitably produces spiritual maturity. This perspective on the disciple making process inevitably leads to metrics like attendance, income, visitor returns and so forth. In time the relentless demands of schedules, logistics, and buildings become the vision; keeping the machine running smoothly becomes the mission, and it happens with no one noticing. Inevitably,  attending a mega-church is like going to Walmart the day after Thanksgiving – it is a madhouse! I’ve seen this from the inside so I have an idea of more appropriate metrics that will move a mega-church in the direction of becoming genuinely engaging, warm and welcoming: How many first time visitors did the greeters meet at the door to the auditorium? To how many regular attendees did the official greeter introduce the new guests? How many first time visitors were greeted by a staff member (Other than children’s and youth pastors all of them should circulate in the auditorium before and after services) How many prayer requests did staff collect from visitors? What is the lag time between a first visit and contact by a non-paid member of the church? (forget the pastor’s welcome letter; it’s nothing more than useless chatter these days) Is a pastor or high ranking staff member actually available meet guests after every service? How often is the hospitality team coached on technique and process? How often does the church employ a “secret shopper” guest to give impartial evaluation of the hospitality? Does the church have a welcoming team at every entrance? How many times did a welcome team members escort a new guest from the entrance to the main welcome center? Is the congregation regularly instructed that members waiting for the service to begin should greet one a number of people and not chat with one person at length? How effective is the enfolding process in moving first time guests into regular fellowship in small groups, connecting them with staff members and insuring that their spiritual needs are met or at least prayed for? What is the percentage rate? Finally, what percentage of first-time guests eventually become regular attenders who are engaged in service through the church? via Can megachurches be church visitor friendly? — Transition Ministries Group. What do YOU think?  Do you think it’s easier or harder for a larger church to be visitor friendly?
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The New York Times has just published a piece looking at trends in the U. S. church.  It’s an interesting read: DALLAS — The mural painted on the side of a building in the Deep Ellum warehouse district here is intentionally vague, simply showing a faceless man in a suit holding an umbrella over the words “Life in Deep Ellum.” Inside there are the trappings of a revitalization project, including an art gallery, a yoga studio and a business incubator, sharing the building with a coffee shop and a performance space.
But it is, in fact, a church. Life in Deep Ellum is part of a wave of experimentation around the country by evangelicals to reinvent “church” in an increasingly secular culture, and it comes as the megachurch boom of recent decades, with stadium seating for huge crowds, Jumbotrons and smoke machines, faces strong headwinds. A national decline in church attendance, the struggling economy and the challenges of marketing to millennials have all led to the need for new approaches. “It’s unsettling for a movement that’s lasted 2,000 years to now find that, ‘Oh, some of the things we always assumed would connect with the community aren’t connecting with everyone in the community in the way they used to,’ ” said Warren Bird, the director of research for the Leadership Network, a firm that tracks church trends. According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, the percentage of Americans who are not affiliated with any religion is on the rise, including a third of Americans under 30. Even so, nearly 80 percent of unaffiliated Americans say they believe in God, and close to half say they pray at least once a month. The “spiritual but not religious” category is an important audience that evangelical leaders hope to reach in a culture that many believers call “post-Christian.” So they arrange meetings in movie theaters, schools, warehouses and downtown entertainment districts. They house exercise studios and coffee shops to draw more traffic. Many have even cast aside the words “church” and “church service” in favor of terms like “spiritual communities” and “gatherings,” with services that do not stick to any script. // Read more here…
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New research from Leadership Network and Warren Bird: Although the size of the churches surveyed varied, the average growth rate for all churches combined is between 6-8% per year, based on worship attendance numbers (adults and children combined) from the past three years. The majority of churches surveyed have also seen an increase in offerings since January, 2012. This trend increases with church size. Churches of 2,000 or more have seen a significant increase, with 28% increasing in the 6-10% range Interestingly, the 80/20 “rule” applies to giving. We asked: Which answer best completes this sentence describing how total giving is reflected in your church? “__ of the giving comes from 20% of our family units.” Most churches replied “80%” or “70%”, indicating that a large amount of giving comes from a small number of households. Churches receive from 1% to 80% of their total offerings via electronic means (online, bank transfer, credit/debit card, lobby kiosk, etc.), with the biggest group of churches receiving between 1% and 20% of their offerings electronically. Larger churches are more likely to receive a greater portion of their giving through electronic donations. All churches surveyed of a weekly attendance of 2,000 or more receive at least some portion of their donations electronically, and the majority are receiving between 1% and 30% of their offerings electronically. These findings are just a few of the insights from the 2012 Leadership Network Economic Outlook Survey. A full, illustrated report of the complete survey findings is planned to release in early 2013. via Church Offerings Increased in 2012 – Worship Attendance Too » Leadership Network. Are you optimistic for 2013?  Is your budget more, less, or the same as it was in 2012?
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New research from Leadership Network… this is just being released from Warren Bird and my colleagues at Leadership Network: Despite the current economic landscape, 73% of all churches surveyed expect to meet budget this year(“this year” being 2012 calendar year or current fiscal year). This response was to the question: “How do you respond to this statement? ‘Our church will meet its budget for this year.’ (whether calendar or fiscal year)” Participating churches ranged in size from less than 50 to over 40,000 people in weekly worship attendance. The larger the church, the more likely they are to say they will meet budget. More than half of the churches surveyed use a Jan-Dec calendar year for their fiscal year, but as church size increases, so does the likelihood that the fiscal year does not follow the calendar year. This optimism is particularly encouraging when you compare the outlook to the responses to the question, “Overall, how has the economic slowdown that began in 2008 impacted your church? This is just part of the story.  Read more here right now… How is YOUR church doing?  Are you on-track to meet or excede your budget this year? And how’s next year looking financially? Leave your comment/insight below… Todd

Eugene Mason has some thoughts and tips: What if you were faced with a situation where you had to cut your church budget significantly? Where would you start? How would you go about deciding what (and who!) could stay, and what you could do without? This may become a reality within the current recession in North America. A church I served faced this situation in 2006. Our Senior Pastor retired, and during the search for our next senior staff and church leader, nearly 20% of our attenders moved on. This resulted in a corresponding decline in giving and attendance. Now, this is quite natural and even predictable in our situation–when polling other churches who went through a similar transition we found our numbers to be about average. Our Senior Pastor was with us for 15 years, and long-tenure leaders leaving tends to result in difficult transitions. In our case, we had to trim a $6.5 million budget to $5.5 million–a 15% reduction in spending, year-over-year. To make matters more difficult, many fixed-cost items like insurance, healthcare and utilities rose, and we could not cut our debt payments. So we entered the budget process with nearly $500,000 more in fixed expenses we had to compensate for even if we did not cut the budget at all. In total we had to find $1.5 million in spending we were forced to do without. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t fun, but here’s what we learned. Be realistic, but optimistic. One approach to our situation would be to just “trust God” for that $1 million and not cut anything. And we honestly considered that option–after all, God can do whatever He pleases, and He has promised to provide our every need. At the same time, we knew we had to be realistic about where we were. You cannot lose 20% of your average attendance and not have that affect your giving. We had some track-recording to lean on–giving was down significantly in the months following the Pastor’s retirement, and that was an indicator that adjustments would be required. We felt a 15% cut, $1 million, still left us with a challenging but attainable budget goal. In the end, our desire was not to spend beyond what we took in–that’s realistic. But we also planned some “wish list” budget items in case God blessed beyond our Budget–that’s optimistic. It’s okay to encourage blue-sky thinking, but face it, we live in a world that is partly-cloudy most of the time. Cut what you can before touching personnel. Bonuses, pay increases, ministry budgets and flexible expenses should be cut first. Capital spending should be reduced. If the budget adjustments must result in loss of personnel, it’s crazy to leave in money for new Christmas decorations at the expense of a person’s livelihood. Personnel should be the last cut on the list, because when you make those cuts, they’re going to leave wounds. Before getting to staff cuts, we pored over every line item, reducing each where we could. I know some leaders may disagree here, as personnel is the highest-cost item in most budgets. But remember, the church is not like a for-profit company. The church is, first and foremost, people. So we want to put people first versus other priorities in any plan to reduce expenses. Be in line with your vision. The mission of our church did not change as a result of a budget cut, so any cuts had to be in line with our church’s overall ministry role. This actually made the cuts easier to make, because we had a firm foundational statement on which to weigh these decisions. Remember, in a budget cut you are trimming expenses, not ministry. For us it meant refocusing on core areas of service that were closely aligned with scripture, and trimming expenses in areas that were more peripheral. It doesn’t make it any easier to explain to ministry leaders why a specific area of ministry is not considered “core,” but the reasoning holds up in light of the Budget situation that is being managed. Treat personnel cuts with dignity. In our case, a $1 million budget adjustment meant cutting 15 full- and part-time staff positions. Even after cuts in other areas, we were forced to trim personnel. We began with our intern program and part-time helpers, then moved on to full-time positions. Most cuts were based on seniority and the ability of other areas to absorb some of the workload. Frankly, there is no way to make these kinds of decisions without affecting emotionally those in the affected area of ministry and lowering overall staff morale. //read more here Have you ever had to make huge budget cuts?  Maybe you’re going through that right now for 2013.  How did you do it? Todd

David Murrow writes a piece entitled “Church Growth:  It’s All About the Pastor” over at the Church for Men website.  See if you agree with his thinking: Can I be brutally honest? When it comes to church attendance, nothing matters as much as the ability of the pastor to deliver good sermons. If a pastor is good at his job the church grows. If he’s bad at his job the church shrinks. Sounds unspiritual – but it’s true. It shouldn’t be this way – but it is. Each week is a referendum on the pastor’s ability to deliver an inspiring sermon. Admit it – you’ve gotten into the car with your spouse and begun critiquing the sermon before you’re out of the church parking lot. Or you’ve been asked, “How was church?” What do you talk about? The sermon. Let’s be real: Protestants judge the quality of a worship service largely by the power of the sermon to move them. Nothing else comes close. This is why the right minister can cause a church to sink or soar. I liken it to a football team: an NFL squad has 53 men, but the team’s fortunes rise and fall on the talents of one man – the quarterback. If he can deliver lots of touchdowns, the team wins. If he can’t, the team loses. Granted, the signal-caller must have good players around him, but as the Denver Broncos are seeing this year, a great QB means everything. The same is true with church attendance. When it comes to numbers, nothing matters as much as the ability of the pastor to deliver engaging sermons. Preaching is everything. It pains me to write these words. In an ideal world, what SHOULD matter is prayer, the presence of the Spirit, the love of the people for one another and the church’s ministry in the community. In that ideal world a church should be able to take out one preacher and install another without a hiccup. And while we’re at it, why does the size of a church even matter? Jesus would choose a church of 12 sold-out disciples over a church of 12,000 passive pew-sitters any day. We can argue these points until Christ returns, but this blog post is about attendance. Numbers. And when it comes to putting men in pews, nothing matters more than pastoral quality. Every other consideration pales in comparison. // read more here… What do you think?  Does it ALL really come down to the ability of the pastor’s preaching skills? I’d love to hear your input…  leave a comment below… Todd

Geoff Surratt writes: The idea of numerical growth being the major measure of success is deeply baked into  our culture. Outreach Magazine’s list of the 100 largest and fastest growing churches is  by far its biggest selling issue. Twitter lights up every Easter and Christmas as the sem-ilost return to the fold, and we report our new record attendance. We add measurement on  measurement to create the perfect metric. Its nickels and noses, its small group  attendance, its number of volunteers, it number of missional communities. We are  looking for the Nirvana of Numbers that will finally tell us that we are doing a good job,  or at least that we’re doing a better job than the guy down the street. The sad thing is that  there is no end to the race. A pastor of a church of 20,000 told me that the real goal was  30,000. Once they arrived on that mountaintop they could then turn their attention to  other things. Pastors, however, are not just in it for the numbers. The bottom-line for almost every  pastor I know is Kingdom impact. He isn’t as concerned about making a list (as nice as  that might be) as he is in knowing that he had made a difference. All of the numbers are  just a way to figure out if the blood, sweat and tears that he has sacrificed in ministry  have been worth it. The sad truth is that for many pastors who are entering their sixties they don’t know that it has. Their churches have stopped growing and may even be  beginning to decline. The thrill of the next goal, the next barrier is past and they are  asking, “Is this all there is? I’ve played the numbers game, now what?” I believe we need a major paradigm shift. If we continue to measure the same things, to build our churches with the same goals, we’re going to continue to get the same  disappointing results. We need to acknowledge that every church has a lifecycle of increase and decline. There are seasons of growth, seasons of maturing, seasons of reproduction and seasons of decline. We need to stop emphasizing the tree and begin looking at the orchard. To borrow a phrase from Steven Covey we need to begin with the end in mind. Read more here…