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~Who said they don’t matter-Ex-Offenders?~

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Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it. -Helen Keller #RethinkPrision http://pep.org/

With self-discipline most anything is possible. -Theodore Roosevelt

What’s on my mind today is the urgency my wife and I are moving with to rebuild our life and to become apart of a community that needs hope and resources for ex-offenders. My wife will graduate with her B.A. in Psychology and substance abuse in five months. She has a 3.68 grade point average and has acquired her CAARR certs and PEER counselor certs. I am so proud of all our accomplishments since our release from prison. We are very close to obtaining a building and funding for our passion of having a reentry facility to employ ourselves and others. Many convicts spend their lives going in and out of jail, never getting on the right track. But there are some who do make it out of the slammer and completely turn their lives around for the better. These people deserve some recognition for proving that criminals can be rehabilitated. 

10.The Lawbreaker Who Became A Lawyer

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Before he became a lawyer and prolific supporter of prisoner rights, Daniel Manville spent three years and four months in the slammer for manslaughter. Manville continued to study while incarcerated and eventually earned two college degrees during his sentence. He became enamored with the legal profession and went to law school right after his parole.

He finally passed the bar exams in Michigan and Washington, DC after waiting many years to be approved by the respective boards. Afterwards, Manville worked tirelessly to improve the prison system and represented various inmates and prison guards in civil cases. Nowadays, Manville teaches law at Michigan State University, where he hopes the insights he shares with students inspire them to someday help improve the system as well.

9.The Millionaire Ex-Convict

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Uchendi Nwani lived a very Jekyll/Hyde existence during his college years. On the surface, Nwani—raised by his stepfather, who was pastor in one of Nashville’s largest Baptist congregations—played the role of exemplary student to his family and friends. However, Nwani hid a very dark secret underneath that shining exterior: He was a drug dealer, and a very notorious one at that. His greed got the better of him on October 15, 1993, when police caught a million-dollar shipment of cocaine while he was in the middle of an exam during his senior year.

He later turned himself in and did six and a half months of hard labor at a federal boot camp before he returned to finish his studies. To make ends meet, he cut hair at the university salon while living in a halfway house. After he graduated, he opened his own barber shop and school which later became a huge success. Nwani now travels around the country to show that he is living proof that, no matter how low you sink, you really can turn your life around if you don’t give up.

8.The World’s Most Flexible Man

While doing time in prison can be a hardening experience for most people, Mukhtar Gusengajiev used his time there to soften himself up. Gusangajiev was just 17 years old when he fell in with the wrong crowd and was ultimately sentenced to three years for partaking in a fight. While serving his time, Gusengajiev dedicated himself wholeheartedly to practicing meditation and flexibility exercises. After he was released from prison, Gusengajiev did a series of odd jobs before finally ending up in Moscow, where he performed as an artist at a government-owned circus.

Gusengajiev got his big break in 1995 when he was noticed by Jean-Claude Van Damme, who invited him to perform for his movie. Although that movie was ultimately scrapped, that invitation did get Gusengajiev to Las Vegas, where he later became famous for his mind-bending feats of flexibility. Since then, Gusengajiev has performed in several prominent events around the world and taught countless people that discipline can help them achieve their goals in life.

7.Chess Taught Ex-Convict The Right Moves In Life

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Chess aficionado Eugene Brown made a lot of questionable decisions early on in his life. Classified as a high-risk youth, Brown frequently mingled with the bad eggs in his hometown of Washington, DC, ending with his participate in a failed robbery attempt and subsequent incarceration in a New Jersey prison. During his stay, Brown met his future mentor, a man named Massey with whom he often played chess. It was during one such game that Brown realized the practical applications of chess to everyday life and how he had been making all the wrong moves up to that point.

After he left prison and went back to his hometown, Brown taught his grandson—who was also experiencing behavioral problems—to play chess, with very positive results. Before he knew it, he had established his own chess club, which became hugely successful teaching young people the right lessons in life. As for Brown, he later became a thriving real estate businessman, but has continued to mentor his young wards in the game of chess and life. A movie based on his story will come out on 2014 starring Cuban Gooding, Jr. in the lead role.

6.From Cocaine To Cuisine

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Prior to cooking delicious five-star cuisine, celebrity chef Jeff Hendersoncooked something else entirely dangerous—cocaine. As a teenager, he had manufactured and sold the drug in his native Los Angeles. By the time he was 19, Henderson was earning as much as US $35,000 per week. He was later apprehended and imprisoned for 10 years after one of his men was caught carrying a big shipment. It was in prison that Henderson discovered he had a natural flair for cooking and constantly practiced his culinary skills while on kitchen duty.

After he was released early for good behavior, Henderson worked in some of LA’s top restaurants before he decided to go for broke in Las Vegas. After experiencing many rejections due to his felonious past, Henderson finally managed to land a job at Caesar’s Palace. It was only a matter of time before he finally started getting recognition and awards, including best Las Vegas Chef in 2001. All the fame and success hasn’t gotten to Henderson’s head and he has continued to share his experiences with at-risk youth to show what they can achieve in life with the right choices.

5.The Jewel Thief Who Became An Honorary Police Officer

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Most parents would have second thoughts leaving their child alone with the hulking and heavily-tattooed Larry Lawton. After all, he used to be one of America’s most notorious jewel thieves. At one point, he was on top of the FBI’s most wanted list on the eastern seaboard. However, the Lawton of today has entirely focused himself on another mission—to use his own experience in educating and saving young people from a life of crime and imprisonment.

Lawton attributed this incredible turnaround to one moment during his twelve years at federal prison. One of his new-found friends committed suicide in his cell, and Lawton—who was in solitary confinement at the time—felt helpless to save him. After he got out, Lawton established his program, Lawton 911, to help at-risk youth from committing the same mistakes he did. Lawton’s sincere efforts have not gone unnoticed—he wasrecently designated an “honorary police officer” by the local police, the first such ex-convict in the US to receive the honor.

4.From Prison To Poetry

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Reginald Dwayne Betts was a classic case of a genius gone awry. Although he was an especially gifted student in his youth, his sass made him difficult to teach, and it was only when teachers gave him books to read that Betts would calm down. For all his smarts, Betts made a pretty dumb error at the age of 16 when he and a friend robbed a man and made off with his car. He was caught, tried as an adult, and sentenced to nine years in prison, where he witnessed the horrors that juvenile prisoners experience mixed in with hardened adult criminals.

To keep his sanity, Betts read almost constantly. He became fixated on poetry when someone slipped him a copy of Dudley Randall’s The Black Poets. After he got out, Betts completed his studies and became an active voice in reforming the juvenile justice system. He also established a reading club for the local young men in his area, which he uses to engender in them a love for reading and poetry.

3.The Founder Of The French National Police

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It may surprise some to know that, at one time, the predecessor to the modern French National Police was founded and headed by an ex-convict. Growing up in Napoleon-era France, Eugene-Francois Vidocq lived a very colorful life that saw him charged and jailed for a variety of crimes, such as theft and assuming false identities. After a while, Vidocq offered his assistance to the police and worked as a spy in the criminal underworld. He became so effective in apprehending criminals and solving complex cases that authorities soon created the Surete Brigade, which was later expanded nationwide by Napoleon and renamed Surete Nationale, to assist him.

Under Vidocq’s leadership, the police reduced crime rates significantly. During his stint, Vidocq employed surprisingly modern methods of investigation and even maintained a forensics laboratory, something few precincts did at the time. Although Vidocq would ultimately resign and clash with the police again—largely because he had formed his own private detective agency—such were his legendary exploits that he later became the basis for popular fictional detectives such as Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.

2.The Australian Danny Trejo

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A lot of movie fans may have already heard about the criminal past life of perennial Hollywood bad guy and anti-hero Danny Trejo, but the Machetestar has a lesser-known Australian counterpart in the form of Mark “Chopper” Read. The Melbourne native grew up with a troubled childhood and started his criminal career by robbing drug dealers. He developed a reputation as a dangerous loose-cannon, accumulating tattoos all over his body and even having most of his ears cut off. He spent time in and out of prison for various offenses such as armed robbery and attempt to abduct a judge.

While in prison, Read wrote several crime novels based on his experiences which later became best-sellers. After his release, Read went on to become a notorious celebrity in the Australian scene, but it was a 2000 movie about his life starring Eric Bana that catapulted Read to worldwide fame. Even when he became clean after his prison time, Read never did let of his mad-dog image—shortly before his death from liver cancer in October 2013, he remarked that he didn’t care if he died as long as he didn’t bleed.

1.The Psychologist Who Received A Presidential Pardon

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Noted forensic psychologist Paul Fauteck’s early life can be described as chaotic at best. A native of Wichita, Kansas, Fauteck was a mischievous boy in his youth. His schooling ended abruptly after he was discovered with the wallets of the other boys in the locker room. Afterwards, Fauteck continued to engage in questionable activities, including carrying a concealed weapon and smuggling his Mexican wife into the country. However, what really got Fauteck in trouble was when he joined a group of men who issued counterfeit checks. For that, he was sent to federal prison, where he frequently spent time in solitary confinement for bad behavior.

After a while Fauteck finally decided to go on the straight path, a decision galvanized by his father’s death just before he left prison. He later moved to Chicago, where he eventually ran an advertising agency while he finished his studies in psychology, having been told by his psychologist friend that he had a natural aptitude for helping people. In time, Fauteck became one of Chicago’s most respected psychotherapists. He also became a forensic psychologist for the local justice system, where he worked for more than a decade before he retired. The culmination of Fauteck’s long and arduous road to recovery came in 1992 when he received a pardon from President George H.W. Bush. Although retired at present, Fauteck continues to push for improved rehabilitation programs to give ex-convicts a better second start in life.

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~The Keys To Kingdom Building As We Are led~

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It is not the beauty of a building you should look at; its the construction of the foundation that will stand the test of time.

David Allan Coe

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In my desire to help further the gospel of Jesus Christ to a dyeing world I have taken the liberty of starting this blog. There are so many challenges associated with ministry and one can be compelled to stall his or her efforts if not for the help of the holy spirit. It is our work to give to the whole world–to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people–the saving truths of the gospel of reconciliation and to herald the third angels message. But it has been a difficult problem to know how to reach the people in the great centers of population. We are not allowed entrance to the churches. In the cities the large halls are expensive, and in most cases but few will come out to the best halls. We have been spoken against by those who were not acquainted with us. The reasons of our faith are not understood by the people, and we have been regarded as fanatics who are ignorantly looking to the heavens and Jesus Christ for salvation. In this work I have been perplexed to know how to break through the barriers of worldliness and prejudice, and bring before the people the precious truth which means so much to them. The Lord has instructed us that the innovation and culturally sound presentation of His word is one of the most important instrumentalities for the accomplishment of this work.

This outline is for May and I to use to build a culturally sound church community within our vision of Second Chance Alliance. We believe that as much as possible we should infuse our community with the core beliefs of our existence as it is wholesomely apart of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Some church leaders find planning a formidable exercise. In reality, the planning process is simple —conceptually. It can be described as answering seven key questions:

  1. Spiritual Needs Assessment: What are the greatest spiritual needs of our church and community?
  2. Strengths and Weaknesses: What are the greatest strengths and weaknesses of our church?
  3. Opportunities and Threats or Barriers: What are the most significant ministry opportunities for and potential threats (or barriers) to our church, given the answers to the first two questions?
  4. Ministry Options: What appear to be the most viable options for strengthening the ministry of our church?
  5. Ministry Platform: What is the primary ministry platform on which our specific ministries should be built? Included in the ministry platform are our statement of faith, vision statement, mission statement, philosophy of ministry, and listing of ministries.
  6. Ministry Goals: What goals is the Holy Spirit leading us to strive for to enhance our church’s ministry over the next year? The next two to three years?
  7. Action Steps: What action steps must we accomplish to achieve these goals?

Getting your team to agree on the answers to these questions (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) may or may not be simple, depending on the circumstances and the relationships of leaders in your church. We feel strongly about fellowship with our leaders to gain leverage in togetherness and creating a 360 degree circumference around our team to solidify our ranks.  We are compelled to this undertaking by the need to fulfill the Scriptural model of Titus 1:5; to set churches in order through the appointment of godly leadership.

What not to do

In Hemet Ca, where we live, potholes are in abundance on most side roads. Some can be avoided, while others come upon you so quickly they are difficult to miss. On the avenue called planning, it’s important to know the potholes to avoid:

  1. Making Planning Too Complex: There are usually two or three key issues that will be discovered, and, if acted on, will lead to enhanced health and vitality. One church in Covina Ca. narrowed their planning to: (1) revising the organization chart, (2) enhancing community life, and (3) streamlining priorities. When these three issues were named, each ministry team could set goals for day-to-day ministry, based on them.
  2. Not Reaching Conclusions and Making an Action Plan: Tie up loose ends along the way, and outline appropriate action steps.
  3. Not Keeping the Action Plan Simple: One church I worked with had such a long document, with dozens of goals and action steps, that it felt overwhelming and didn’t win approval. The objective is to create a plan that every member can articulate without having to refer to any documentation.
  4. Not Revisiting the Plan: Your plan should be adjustable along the way, revised and renewed according to the needs and resources available to you. Keep your planning documents alive. Don’t shelve them, file them, or formalize them in pretty documents. At Second Chance Alliance, we hold our plans loosely, in a “white paper” format, with lots of room for give and take each step of the way. May and I are learning as we go how to build and implement viable concepts that will help us with the trajectory we desire to get our model off the ground and receive excitement and commitment with buy-in to our visions.

Taking Too Long: Don’t let your planning team tire and begin to complain about the value of doing this. Keep the group moving forward toward conclusion and celebration.

Trusting Your Instincts apart from Prayer: As a team, lean fully in God’s direction to hear his voice, feel his heart, understand his will, and trust his empowering presence to lead you. Strategic planning in a local church or business is a process that God through his Holy Spirit must direct. Become a people of prayer as you trust him for his design for your church!

What “Performance Indicators” Are In Place At Your Church To Support A Healthy Culture?

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Do you want your church to be a New Testament church? Most people would unequivocally say yes. If so, then after which New Testament church would you like to model your church? The one in Ephesus? Corinth? Galatia? What about the church of the Thessalonians?

Let’s face it, the early church had its challenges. In fact, believers in the first century could have invented the term dysfunctional. The early churches experienced racial and ethnic strife, sensuality and immorality among members, doctrinal divisions, and heresy taught by charismatic personalities.

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The early churches also had difficulty assimilating new members into the body of Christ. Conflict among church leaders occurred on a regular basis. In many ways, things haven’t changed in two thousand years. People and churches still experience the same problems the early church encountered.

When we say we want to be a New Testament church, I believe we mean this: we desire for our church to be characterized by a vibrant, evangelistic spirit that witnesses the power of God transforming lives. What would your church look like if it patterned its ministry after churches in the New Testament? Should we not expect God to transform those who are enslaved to immorality, addicted to drugs, or enmeshed in difficult relationships? Or does God only work in the lives of good people who just need a little “tweaking”? If ours is to be a healthy church, a New Testament church then it will include dysfunctional people who are being transformed through God’s grace.

Unfortunately, many of our churches are not reaching the unchurched. The reason? They do not have a church culture that encourages intentional efforts to bring the lost to Christ.

How Can We Create a Climate for Reaching the Unchurched?

Several positive steps can be taken. Once taken, they also may reveal information that can lead toward other strategic actions.

Pray for the unchurched.

Prayer should permeate all of our evangelism efforts. Jesus wept over the spiritual condition of the city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). Scripture assures us that God is at work redeeming the world. He wants us to be sensitive to His activity around us.

In Sunday School/Sabbath School classes and departments, pray for neighbors, family members, coworkers, and acquaintances in the marketplace. Pray for the lost by name. Pray for your class to be sensitive for opportunities to share the gospel. Prayer time should not be a one-minute brief acknowledgement, but instead should provide opportunities for members to pray earnestly for the evangelism efforts of the church.

Establish prayer groups that meet for the sole purpose of praying for the lost of the community and for such evangelism efforts as FAITH ministry. Make the midweek prayer service truly a time for the church to pray for God’s activity, not just to read a list of those who are sick.

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Commit to develop relationships with the unchurched.
Before inviting the unchurched to church, it is important to develop a relationship with them. While it may sound like a cliche, a good rule of thumb to keep in mind is this: Don’t invite persons to your Sunday School/Sabbath School class until you have invited them to your home. In other words, get to know your unchurched friends and neighbors over a meal or dessert. Find interests you share and can enjoy together.

Spend time getting acquainted. Find out where they come from and what their spiritual background has been. Pray for these new friends daily. Look for ways to minister, such as mowing their yard while they are on vacation or working on house projects. Invite these friends to attend sporting or cultural events with you.

Winning the lost and assimilating them into the body of Christ is not a quick-strike operation; it requires a long-term commitment to relationships.

Become a hospital for the spiritually wounded.
Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. . . . I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:12-13). Churches that reach their communities embody the doctrine of grace. People’s lives have been changed and they share that good news with others who are seeking hope, help, and healing.

Examine your Sunday School/Sabbath School and church records. Are you only baptizing your own, or is your church reaching unchurched families and adults for Christ?

Recognize That Ministry Can Be Messy
Reaching the unchurched is messy. The unchurched are not familiar with the language or acceptable behaviors of Christians. Unfortunately, many churches follow this formula: Behave, Believe, and then Belong. With this thinking we are implicitly saying, “First, you must behave the way we behave. You must talk and dress like us. Then, once you behave like us, you must believe what we believe. Then, if you believe what we believe, you can belong to our church.”

To reach the unchurched we must reverse that formula. Postmoderns are looking for a community in which to belong. Once they feel accepted for who they are, they begin to change their values and beliefs. After they understand what God is calling them to be and do, they will change their behavior. Focus your Sunday School/Sabbath School on developing an open-group strategy in which everyone feels that they belong.

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Teach for spiritual transformation.
Whether it was the woman at the well or the leper by the pool of Siloam, Jesus always spoke to the needs of the individual. He met people where they were and gave them hope for the future.

The unchurched may or may not be concerned about the doctrinal stands of your church. Many don’t care what version of the Bible you read or how your church is governed. While they are open to spiritual things, experiencing faith in a church setting has been a stumbling block.

Their concerns are more pragmatic. One out of three will struggle with finances. The issues in their lives are to find a well-paying job, meet the mortgage payment, put food on the table, get out of debt, and maintain job security. Unchurched adults often are concerned about personal health issues.

Family matters occupy their attention. They want help with child-rearing: discipline, school events, dating, and allowances. Single parents worry about how to carry the parenting load alone. Unchurched adults want close personal friendships and a clear purpose for living. Median adults are concerned with the challenges of meeting the needs of aging parents. Most of the unchurched are drowning in the whirlpool of life’s realities and don’t believe the church has anything that can help them.

Bible study must go beyond what happened thousands of years ago among a group of nomads wandering in the desert. Bible study must be directed toward life application so that God’s transforming work can take place in people’s lives. Do your teachers apply Scripture to everyday life? Are lives being changed by applying the truth from God’s Word?

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Sometimes your culture is consumed by a secret of deception of Sectarianism and Schisms. Partiality towards a bigger tither or individuals who have influence within the social sector who portray being supportive of church visions can destroy or split a church.

Tell the Unchurched How Jesus Makes a Difference
The unchurched want to know, “Does following Jesus make any difference in your life?” “Does the Bible have anything to say about my problems?” Address the hot buttons of the unchurched. Provide learning opportunities outside the walls of the church to address these issues.

Consider starting community family groups that meet in apartment buildings or in homes. Use these groups to address life issues from a biblical perspective. Provide parenting tools and seminars in community clubhouses or conference centers. The unchurched are more open to meeting at a neutral site until they get to know members of your church.

Be willing to change.
In the movie Sister Act, Whoopi Goldberg plays the part of a nightclub singer. She finds herself incognito as Sister Mary Clarence, a nun in a faltering Catholic church in an urban decaying neighborhood. The church on Sunday morning is comprised of the “few but faithful” older members. The streets are filled with bustling activity while the church quietly goes about its traditions.

Sister Mary Clarence pushes to assume leadership for the choir and changes the special music to a more contemporary style, drawing the wrath of her superior. However, the teenagers and young adults begin to walk in off the street because they hear (described by the priest) this “heavenly music” calling them.

The Mother Superior is angry that such raucous music is being sung. It is blasphemy. She loves the traditions of the church.

What traditions in your church are keeping you from reaching the lost? What true changes (not superficial ones for the sake of change) do you need to make to reach the unchurched?

The pastor and key Sunday School/Sabbath School leaders must be committed to change.
A crucial factor in changing the church’s culture is the leadership of the pastor and Sunday School director. Unless the pastor and key church leaders are committed to changing the culture and are involved in reaching the lost, the church will not reach the unchurched.

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What specific things will you do to cast a vision for reaching the lost? What will you do personally to share your faith?

Do you need to teach a class on friendship evangelism, start a new class, or develop a prayer ministry for evangelistic efforts in the church? What Sunday School issues need attention? Are you involved in FAITH; if so, how can you better support that evangelism strategy?

Make specific and strategic plans to be a New Testament church that reaches the unchurched for Christ’s glory.

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Developing The Flesh Into A Temple Will Build God’s Earthly Temple

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Revelation 1:13

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; 13and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. 14His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire.…

Revelation 2:1

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: 2I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false;…

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In looking at my fleshly church today I am concerned about the maturity and growth taking place within. Quantifiable numbers always signifies success or failure, but it’s not about numbers, It’s about faithfulness in the journey. God adds the increase and gives the visions needed to acquire lost souls for the hospital of faith. I sought this out this week due to my getting dealt with by God about the condition of my heart and yielding myself as a living sacrifice that will permit His spirit to give me innovative approaches to ministry and those that are essential associated with the practical applications of the Gospel.

Rule No. 1 in church expansion: Think in terms of getting ‘unstuck,’ rather than just getting bigger.
The statistics are clear: 80 percent of all churches in the United States average fewer than 200 attendees each weekend. Without major change in leadership style, congregational dynamics, ministry vision or some other significant aspect of church-life, churches that have existed for more than five years will most likely stay the size they are now, with only moderate growth over time.

One of the shame-inducing truisms floating around the body of Christ goes something like, “All healthy organisms grow.” Pastors of smaller or plateaued churches feel the implied jab: Lack of growth is symptomatic of underlying sickness. That’s not very helpful in the real church-world. To begin with, there are limits to the size any organism can reach (Trophy trout are rare–especially in small streams), and if you keep growing after the legal age, it’s called getting fat.

Most of us have been stuck somewhere, somehow–in the desert sand off the main road, up a tree we climbed in our pre-adolescence or on a tricky algebra problem. But somehow, someway, we got unstuck. When our tires spun uselessly in the sand, we tried different approaches; when the algebra equation withstood one thought, we assaulted it with another.

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Getting stuck forces us to adapt our approach to life. In fact, one theory of learning says the brain is wired to solve predicaments, and true learning only happens when the mind tries to figure something out. God designed us to keep at it–knocking, seeking and asking–but to do so in close counsel with Him.

We may find more solutions to what hinders our churches from growing larger if we think in terms of getting unstuck, rather than just getting bigger. The point is not, I hope, just to grow bigger congregations. Our true aim ought to be to grow more spiritually significant people.

Rather than trying the latest surefire program emphases just to attract more people, we can actually focus our church-growth strategies on the very things that make for bigger people. If we remember the goal has never been to put on church per se, but to develop people with the tool called church, we can still find several ways to get our people unleashed and our churches unstuck.

While we must reject too clinical an approach to church growth–making it devoid of God’s sovereign working–so too must we refuse to attribute all the growth of some churches to the arbitrary whims of God-sent revival. Thus, a healthy perspective on church growth leaves to God the things only He can do (the stuff we pray about), but willingly assumes responsibility for the things we can do something about. God gave me the teeth He gave me, but I brush them.

Just as 95 percent of all the fish in a lake inhabit a mere 5 percent of the space, and most computer problems can be traced to a limited number of common issues, so, too, do growth stick-points tend to cluster around a few factors.

Of the many such elements, there are three that seem most critical to me: staff composition, fellowship grouping and people mobilizing.

1. Who comprises the staff? This includes both paid and volunteer. A church will rarely grow beyond the capacity of its staff. One of the easiest, surest ways to foster church growth is to add people with staff responsibilities (not necessarily salary). The benefit to each of those new “staff members” and to the whole church cannot be overstated.

2. What fellowship groups exist in the church? And how easy is it for individuals to attach themselves to those clusters of people? Small churches stay stuck by trying to keep everybody doing all the same things as one big, happy family. Multiple services, small groups, choirs and other groupings within the church will gear congregations for expansion–and open more opportunities for individuals to lead meaningfully.

3. How is responsibility delegated? Have significant levels and types of responsibility been delegated to people in the church? If God entrusts His church with increasing levels of responsibility based on proven faithfulness, He will bless churches that do likewise. Besides, the more leaders are freed from doing “the same old same old,” the more they initiate new enterprises. Growing churches keep generating new ministries that inspire and challenge the congregation.

Churches get stuck at some sizes more than others, and while the plateau numbers may not be exact figurings, they do present pastors with slightly different challenges for trying new strategies in staffing, grouping and delegating. Let’s take a look at some of the most common plateau points–and how to break free from them.

UNDER 60 PEOPLE

Generally speaking, the leader feels his job involves knowing everything about each and every person in the congregation, and “being there” personally for everybody. Church is a big family at the dinner table; that’s why potluck meals work so well within this size church. The pastor cares and does so much, he lulls the congregation away from its own responsibility to bear one another’s burdens. For the most part, he responds to problems and reacts to situations that arise in the normal course of people’s lives.

Acting more as a chaplain or a concerned parent, the pastor of the typical small church delegates almost nothing. And if he does ask someone to oversee an aspect of church life, he will keep checking on it so often and so intrusively, the individual feels about as empowered as a youngster with a learner’s permit on her first driving lesson with mom.

SUGGESTIONS:

1. Identify three ministry jobs (for example, creating the bulletin, selecting the worship songs or running the sound system), turn them over to volunteers, and after explaining the job for an hour, do nothing and say nothing related to those jobs for three months.

2. Do not attend the next church fellowship function, and for the next three months always invite someone different to open any gatherings (with a prayer or a greeting) and to close them. Have neither the first nor the last word.

3. Redirect one hour of your weekly schedule– something you normally do–and go sit somewhere, such as in a coffee shop, with pen and paper. Write down any new ideas for your church (not reminders).

90 TO 120 PEOPLE

Having broken free from the previous stick-point, churches of this size are developing into a comfortable community, not just a family. Usually, there are not (yet) many structural or logistical problems. The first faint glimpses of a leadership structure are emerging, but delegation is probably friendship-based and related almost exclusively to small or easily controlled aspects of church life. No one is really being freed to do things the way they think is best. Rather, the pastor has thought it through and merely tells someone what to do and how to do it.

There will always be exceptions, but generally speaking, a church of 90 will stay stuck without a full-time pastor and a half-time assistant who keeps regular office hours.

SUGGESTIONS:

1. Legitimize your operations by making the “office staff” more substantial–setting prescribed hours when you’re (always) open, filling those hours with workers (paid and unpaid), getting a “real” piece of office equipment, having a “staff lunch” for volunteers, and so on.

2. Begin to establish multiple gatherings of the same kind. Some examples: dividing into two weekend services even if your building is not full, starting three breakfast groups for emerging leaders, for five months discontinuing regular meetings with your elders so they can each meet during that time slot with their own group of the same size/gender composition as the former elders’ group.

3. Identify three main areas of ministry (for example, children’s ministry, worship or men’s meetings), and invite at least five people in each area to two brainstorming sessions to dream big. Delegate specific jobs and responsibilities to each participant. Help them to do it if they need the help, but expect them to do it. Leave it in their hands.

200 PEOPLE

The vast majority of all U.S. churches stay stuck here because it marks the limit to the number of people with whom the pastor has the time, energy or personal reserves to stay close. People drift in and out of the church because the pastor has unknowingly set up the expectation that he, personally, is going to attend to them. Sooner or later, the pastor will unintentionally violate that agreement, and they will feel as though things “just aren’t the same anymore” since all the new people came.

The pastoral strategy must be to remove himself slightly from the whole congregation in order to concentrate on a few present or prospective leaders. Forced to become more strategic and long term in thinking, the pastor must back away from the people and get ahead of them.

SUGGESTIONS:

1. Consider hiring more staff. Staffing plays an especially critical role in pushing past the 200 barrier. Even if it seems as though the money is not there, seriously consider “hiring” two full-time, pastoral-level staff with two full-time support personnel. Begin by paying salaries to the two support personnel, and add pastors to the payroll as you can. (They’re much more expensive to hire and far more likely to be excited about the role–even as a volunteer.)

2. Identify a fairly major work project and bond people to one another by getting them to work together on it. If people scrape paint side by side, they will feel as though they are a part of the body, and the church will begin to grow. It builds esprit de corps, a vital replacement to the “big, happy family” feeling.

3. Write down the names of the seven most active-in-leadership individuals or couples in your church and the “hats” they wear; ask each individual or couple to help you think of other people to whom you can delegate all but two of your leaders’ jobs.

400 PEOPLE

The pastor is absolutely convinced he or she cannot and should not pastor all the people in the church, so significant administrative and discipleship measures to utilize “the few” to pastor the many have already been adopted. Pastoral care, along with virtually every other ministry segment of the church, must be delegated the way Jethro instructed Moses. Church is administratively and relationally complex. Individuals and groups shift the focus of attention, and some “widows” are not going to be serviced properly.

The church becomes its own mission field, needing sub-congregations almost like new churches pioneered within it. Leaders are beginning to have an ambition for the people they directly oversee, and sometimes that internal ambition will cross grains with the whole program. Internal expansion and program needs should win out over the larger church program at least some of the time.

It’s time for the youth pastor to be his or her own person. The senior pastor should welcome times when various ministry leaders “buck the system” (developing kingdoms within a kingdom), not in the spirit of Absalom, but in the spirit of true servants who, like you, are in the business of ministry because they see the sheep needing more shepherds. Commission and appoint people, full of the Holy Spirit and power, to oversee areas of ministry responsibility.

SUGGESTIONS:

1. Staff for sanity and for growth. If you keep an appropriate ratio of staff to people, sanity calls for the equivalent of six full-time staff, and growth will likely require a couple more than that. Make a list of everyone you would hire (and what they would do) if you were given $500,000 to be used only for salaries. Don’t wait for the money. Ask the people on the list to start doing what you’d like them to oversee.

2. Appraise and repair the church-program offerings to increase the number of strands–fellowship situations or opportunities–in the net you’re using to fish for people. The two main types of groups are getting (people come for care and nurture without having to do anything) and giving (people come in order to provide service for others). With an apprentice leader at your side, start two new groups, one of each variety, with very specific focuses–for example, one targeting fathers in blended families and the other developing prayer teams.

3. Provide opportunities for sharing. One of the most substantial ways to build team spirit and cooperation is to encourage members of the team to share their stories, successes and struggles with the whole group–especially with the primary leader present and attentive. Pastors who do all the talking at leadership gatherings miss a great opportunity to promote others into greater involvement and service.

At your next churchwide leaders’ meeting, ask at least eight people to give a five- to seven-minute presentation (complete with handouts) on the current condition of and the future vision for the “department” they oversee. And you take notes while they are speaking!

Bottom line: If we’re going to burn the hell out of our world, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a few bigger bonfires. But there’s a lot to be said for firing the flames of even the smallest campfire, so that it will jump outside whatever presently rings it in. The kingdom principle has always been multiplication. We find our spiritual significance not through collecting people, but in gathering them for the purpose of sending them out to replicate their experience with us.

Remember what we’re supposed to be growing: congregants not congregations. For some amazing reason, Jesus did not choose to bequeath to His church a special potion to be poured on pews to attract people like bees come to honey. He didn’t give us a franchise-church-in-a-box or limitless sources of money to erect impressive buildings.

Instead, He gave the church people-gifts (prophets, mercy-showers, exhorters, and so on) and a prayer focus (more laborers). Hmmm…

So, whether a church has big or small numbers, God’s interest is the same. And even more to the point, that interest is a sobering reality check for us pastors, regardless of how big or small our congregations may be. The true question is not, “How can I get a bigger church?” but, “How can I empower more of my church in ministry that really matters?”

Take Your Church’s PULSE
How do you diagnose a church’s health? Here are some distinguishing characteristics.

If size alone is not a legitimate indicator of spiritual health–since political conventions, Mormon Temples and stock car races all attract crowds–are there other more telling signs of well-being in church? Here are some of the pulse points I keep my finger on in my congregation:

Leaders’ lives. As in the lives of the Old Testament prophets, the true leaders in my church are experiencing the strange and marvelous reality of “living out” stuff God is doing in the whole church. For instance, recently–over the course of one week–four different men told me of their desires to volunteer one afternoon a week at the church. Coincidence or Godincidence?

What is happening in leaders is especially diagnostic of seasons God may be bringing our way. Look for changes in the prevailing winds.

Post-service conversations. Do people want to stick around after “church” is over? What are the subjects of their conversations with one another?

If the same groups of friends are just chitchatting or tacking down details, I’m not nearly as excited as if I notice the normal groups are split up among newer people, and they’re talking about what God has done in them recently.

Expectant worship. Regardless of the piano player or song selection, I’m curious about the atmosphere in times of corporate celebration of the Lord. Are people leaning in or back? I am thrilled when many individuals seem to form their own little pockets of personal intimacy with the Lord in the midst of the whole congregation–not doing their own thing apart from the rest of us, but “lost” in communion in the midst of us.

Stories. The more I hear testimonies about what God is doing or saying in people’s lives (as opposed to just the normal goings-on), the happier I am. And when the talk around church moves a bit further toward friends’ and neighbors’ encounters with God through evangelism, the more certain I am that we’re healthy.

Affection levels. Godliness (the whole hope for churchgoers) shows up more in qualities such as kindness, patience and tenderness than in thunderous pronouncements and self-righteous judgments. People on whom God has been working tend to manifest soft hearts, and Jesus’ trade secret says, “Who has been forgiven much, loves much.” Beyond what is normal for friends in a Rotary Club, what signs of affection do I pick up in my church?

Cheerful, heartened buzz. Forgive the pagan allusion, but the best way I know to describe this attribute in church is to call it pixie dust. When that stuff gets sprinkled on a congregation, it creates an excited joy, a sense of expectation about the future, coupled with such enjoyment of the present that no one is in a hurry to move on. It’s like enjoying a fabulous meal and spying–at the same time–the dessert tray with its exquisite possibilities. Such timelessness and inability to contain the entire blessing is a touch of heaven to come.

I read a few books “Evangelism and Church Growth by Elmer L. Towns, and Church For The Unchurched by George G. Hunter III and Grace God’s Unmerited Favor by C. H. Spurgeon and Concentric Circles of Concern by W. Oscar Thompson, Jr. With Carolyn Thompson. Self improvement develops the presence of the holy spirit when you search the scriptures and other divine writings.