Monday, January 17, 2011

How's Your Churches Ethos?


Dr. Bob Orr
Teaching young Pastors in Training
For nearly 30 years of my life I have traveled around the world visiting 30 different countries training pastors and the laity from their churches in the principles and practices of growing a church and doing so primarily by conversion growth. I have seen congregations that span the depth of diversity in denominational or non- denominational identity, churches that were old or relatively new, churches that were small, medium, large or mega large in size, churches that span the wonders of the diversity that differing cultures provide and churches that have been growing are plateaued or are in decline.

These churches have taught me much more than I believe I have ever taught them and to these pastors and churches I am in debt for this posting.

Andong Presbyterian Church
The genesis of this posting arises out of a time when I was on my way to do a seminar but had an uncertainty as to what I would say since the topic was very generic. I had brought enough material with me that after talking to the executive in more specifics I could teach whatever he wanted. My question on the plane however was "What does a growing church look like?" To be specific, yet honest, I immediately recognized that I was going to be speaking to pastors who came from a great diversity of situations. As I reflected on my assignment I started to reflect on what I had observed and learned from my experience. I asked myself if there were common denominators that transcended this diversity. This led me to articulating a principle and looking at how I had observed it’s outworking.


We do not cause growth; we create the favorable environment in which growth can occur.

This principle tries to capture the essence of the scriptural admonitions that we are “co-laborers with God” (1 Corinthians 3:9) and that we can plant and water but it is the Lord who gives the increase. (1 Corinthians 3:7)


Congregational ethos is the environment, that within a church, is conducive to the edification of, and the joyful participation in, the life and ministry of the local church, and at the same time providing a powerful attracting force that attracts, holds, and wins the unchurched/unbeliever to Christ and his church.

Using this principle the list that follows are my observations as to what I have seen in growing churches regardless of location, size, age, or culture.

The value of this list would be to take it and ask a simple question; “How well do I as the leader or how well does our church reflect these qualities?"

Observations From A Consultant About The Elements Of A Conducive Ethos.

1.   A leader who genuinely loves God and loves people and it is evident.

Dr. Cho In His Office
Muti-generational people all comment
on the atmosphere and positive experience
v I have seen in growing churches that the pastor is deeply in love with the Lord and his/her walk with God is both a source of their personal strength, which gives them a spiritual authority, and a reservoir that overflows in a love for God’s people. These shepherds love the Lord and love God’s people.

2.   Positive up-building language.

v  There are problems in every church, growing or not, and the leader can make things worse by their defeatist language. Leaders who are making a difference understand the effect their words have on the psyche and the behavior of the people in their congregation and seek to have their words “acceptable in his sight”
v  Psalm 19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

3.   Members who are conscious of the role the church has made in their personal growth.

v  It would seem obvious but rather than acknowledging it we tend to ignore it. People evaluate their participation in the life of the church on a personal cost-benefit matrix. So when you listen to the words coming from the mouths of persons in growing congregations the testimony of their lips extols the blessings and help the church has been in their growth and development as disciples of Christ.

4.   An inspiring worship experience.

v  Regardless of the style of worship (There are good examples of growing churches in every style category) people come to church each week hoping to be “built up” rather than “beat up”
A wonderful Assembly of God in India.
Reaching Muslims and Hindu's with the gospel
v  With many churches in many denominations seeing between 30 and 50% of their members who could attend not attending on a weekly basis it is a conclusion that can be reached that they deem whatever they are doing to have greater value than coming to the worship experience.
v  In growing churches the language of persons is that the worship experience inspires and energizes them for their life and service.

5.   Values and vision in harmony.

v  Vision is like a seed that gets planted and when it takes root it bears fruit. Just like the parable Jesus taught about the soils and the seed (Matthew 13) only seed sown on good ground bears fruit.
The Kissi church welcomed 43 new converts
from their work over the previous 3 months
Less than 2 yrs old it has over 200 adults already
v  An example might be a vision that includes having every member identifying the 8-15 people God has supernaturally and strategically placed in their lives (their oikos) with the hope that every member would take this responsibility seriously. We know however that if the value “that lost people matter to God and need to matter to us” is not broadly held this vision will be like casting the pearl of vision away for it will go unheeded and unfulfilled.

6.   A care centered infrastructure.

v  Growing churches have learned that we are the body and we care for one another. This is reflected in formal ways (deacon ministry, small groups, home visitation) and informally through the deep relationships people have with one another where the love that Christ would give is given.

7.   A building that exudes warmth and welcome.

v  The building or place where you meet does not necessarily cause growth but it can be a growth inhibitor.
v  Focus groups with the unchurched affirm this reality; the building can inhibit first time visits and cause first time visitors to not  come back. The issues of building/facility are many but a good question to ask the members relates to their comfort in inviting their unchurched friends to come to church with them. If the members know they have a very poor nursery for example, they will be reluctant to invite friends who have small children.

8.   A belief that the best days of the church are now and to come.

v I have used a simple exercise in hundreds of church settings. I go to a White Board, Blackboard or any other easily seen medium. I draw a line and at one end of the line I write Past. At the other end of the line I write Future and somewhere in the middle I write Now. I ask people to duplicate this on their paper and then put an X on the line as to where they believe the best days of the church were or are.
v I have noticed that in growing churches the majority of the people are putting their X somewhere between today and the future for they truly believe the best days of the church are yet to be and they are excited about seeing that future realized.
v In declining churches there is a belief that the best days of the church have already occurred and today is an attempt to try and recreate that time. There is a resistance to any ideas that alter the status quo. The X in our diagram is normally somewhere between today and some point of time in the past

9.   An expectancy that God will work. (God stuff)

v What makes the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ different than any other social organization is that the miraculous does happen as the God who is the same yesterday and forever delights to show himself strong on behalf of His people.
v This is evidenced in testimonies from individuals as to how God took the impossible and made it possible, how He answered prayers when we were about to give up hope.
v It is seen as people who come to the church and have their lives transformed by the gospel and go from darkness to light.

10.       Momentum

v John Maxwell claims the power of momentum is more valuable than an additional staff person.
v Rick Warren talks about learning to ride the wave
v Donald McGavran talked about looking to see what God was blessing and doing that.
v From the studies on Church life-cycles it has proven an easier task to keep a church growing than it is to get the church either off a plateau or reverse its decline. My dad worked on the Launch pads for the Shuttle. He learned from the scientists that it takes almost 90% of the fuel to simply help that rocket clear the tower. An illustration par excellence of the difficulty of overcoming organizational inertia
v The question that destroys momentum is to look at something working and ask how can we keep it going.
v The questions that build momentum are different. These questions are “If we were starting today would we do it like we are doing it now?” or “If we were to increase our results by 50% above our current level what changes would we need to make.
v The church or person who thinks they have arrived has just made the decision that will forfeit the future.

11.       A passion for excellence.

v Television has made this issue an issue that churches that want to grow must take seriously. Television has increased the expectation of quality.
v Growing churches regardless of their current size have embraced that we must give our best and strive to do everything with excellence.
v Excellence is not perfection but it is a consciousness that we give God and his church our best and we are striving towards excellence.
v When I church settles for a “good enough” mentality it easy to let quality slide

12.       A staff that genuinely loves their work and love working together.

v I have seen in growing churches the affirmation of the Lead pastor for his staff and the loyalty and love for the senior pastor from the staff.
v Beyond that, there is not a competitive but a cooperative environment that allows a synergy to develop that multiples the effort

13.       A vital prayer ministry.

v Pastor Jim Reeve from Faith Community Church loves to say, “Without God we can’t and without us God won’t”.
v Prayer acknowledges that without His blessing we labor in vain and it puts us in a place where as we surrender ourselves to be transformed and used by Him  we find ourselves doing that which on our own would never get done.

14.       Positive ministry experiences.

v It has been rightly stated that the only thing we tend to learn from failure is not to do that again. So you can go to churches that have not grown and make a suggestion and the first response is “We tried that (or something like that) and it didn’t work”
v Failures have the tendency to develop an organizational pessimism and a resistance to any new ideas.
v Motivation towards ministry comes when people have positive experiences in ministry

15.       Church is fun. (Social as well as religious significance)

v You have heard the phrase “the church that prays together stays together”. While I would never and by saying what I am about to say discount prayer it is also true that “the church that plays together stays together”
v The friendship factor and all that is implied by friendship is a characteristic of growing churches.

16.       Process orientation. (Believer and non-believer).
v  Norton and Engel developed the decision model included here to reflect on the journey persons take from their lost unchurched estate to faith in Christ.

Engel Scale

v  Growing churches appreciate this process and provide steps to help people on their journey.
v  People in today’s world are farther away from God than previous generations. Studies have shown the decrease in religious training among the youngest generations when compared to previous generations.
v  This places a demand on churches to expand the scope of their programs to take into account the varying starting points and the steps in the journey to life transforming faith.

17.       Non-competitive diversity.

v In declining churches there is expectancy that everyone will be involved in everything and this restricts the ability to expand both the kind and scope of programs offered.
v In growing churches there is expectancy that the diversity will in and of itself at the same time be both exclusionary and inclusionary. There will be persons who don’t and shouldn’t participate in certain activities. Participation should be based on those activities that give you the best opportunity to grow or serve.
v There is a willingness in growing churches to say yes to those activities which working together with what we already are doing will expand our impact. There is in a real sense a Gestalt as the new contributes to the synergy that makes the church effective in accomplishing its mission.

18.       A sense of expectancy.

v Hope is a uniquely Christian virtue. The persons in growing churches believe that where they are and what they are is not their destiny. They know that God is not finished with them yet. They believe the promise of being changed from glory to glory will be realized in their experience.

19.       A positive congregational self image. (Morale).
A church meeting in a home in 
the middle
of a Leper Colony. 
Passionate worship 
led by the only instrument 
they could afford; a single drum

v What a congregation believes about itself will have an effect on its ministry.
v If the self-image were based on past failures it would be expected that the willingness to risk would be diminished.
v If the past has damaged the self-image the solution since we can’t change the past is to first ask what lessons did we learn and then ask the DL Moody question. “What would God do in us or through us if we were totally committed to Him.
v This is a case were the answer is a spiritual one for we are not who we think we are and we are not even who others think we are we are the church of the living God and we are who He says we are and we can do what He says we can do. So our future is based not on what is seen but on faith, which sees the invisible, feels the intangible and achieves the impossible.

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