As ministry leaders, we’re meant to live out of the Scriptures. Or perhaps it’s better to say that we’re to live in the Scriptures, then live them out.
I appreciate how Dr. Ken Boa defines encounters with Scripture. He says, “When I think of ‘encounter with Scripture,’ I’m thinking about showing up before God with an open heart and with an open Bible and expecting that He is going to really open something to you. You may not feel anything; it may not be something palpable, but my view about the matter is that you’re putting yourself in a greenhouse, as it were, for growth.”
Ken describes four dynamics that are essential parts of our encounters with Scripture:
What could be more important for our spiritual health as leaders than encounters with God in His Word?
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Take a good look at the children in your church. By the time they’re in their 20s, seven out of ten will have left the church behind.
Not just moved away from their childhood church, but left church entirely. Staggering, isn’t it? We are only retaining 30% of the young people who come through our churches.
I believe God wants us to take this seriously. So does David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group and author of You Lost Me—Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith.
From interviews with some 5,000 18- to-29-year-olds the Barna Group identified the spiritual journeys of three groups, which they call nomads, prodigals, and exiles. David is quick to note that people don’t leave the church the same way, and cautions us to be careful when talking about the journeys of faith of individuals.
The spiritual journey of nomads
Nomads are individuals who walk away who are not necessarily walking away from Christianity, but they’re walking away from the church. About 4 in 10 Christian young people will go through that sort of spiritual journey. They say that Christianity is still important to them, but it’s no longer important enough for them to go to church.
Nomads will say things like:
The spiritual journey of prodigals
Prodigals are the ones who typically come to mind when we think about young people who lose their faith. About 1 in 10 Christian young people lose their faith in Christianity altogether.
Prodigals will say things like:
The spiritual journey of exiles
“Exiles are individuals who we might describe as sort of halfway in and halfway out of the church,” David says. About 2 in every 10 young people would meet the definition of an exile.
Exiles will express things like:
Nomads, prodigals, and exiles present a tremendous challenge for the church. They represent a loss of 70% of the precious young spiritual lives the Lord has entrusted to parents and churches. Lost sheep matter to the Good Shepherd.
But there is one more statistic that gives us hope. According to research, says David Kinnaman, “If you as a young person, a teenager, have a significant relationship with some other adult Christian in the church—beyond the youth pastor and beyond your own parents—you have something like a double or triple chance of staying faithful into your young adult years.”
What can you do to encourage relationships between mature adults and young people in your church?
"Lacking a clear and compelling vision that motivates the reader is the number one reason proposals fail" -- Mike Stickler
The lack of a vision that is clearly defined and highly observable to your funders is the biggest reason your proposal will be denied. This is our favorite topic to teach to organizations. "Vision Development is a game changer." A properly formed vision will compel funders to share in your objectives. In this session, learn the definition of vision, mission, and a "dream." Learn how to put that vision into the culture of your organization, and how it leads to sustainable funding. If there is one session you don't want to miss- This is it!
If you build it they will come. That may work in the movies, but in the real world they—the community you serve—won’t come unless they know about it; your ministry, that is. No matter what you are called to do, your community needs to hear about your work before they can respond to it.
Our vision here at The Vision Group is to help you reach a strong and deep level of engagement with the community you serve, even though that community might be worldwide.
What does it mean to engage? Engagement is getting someone in your audience to take action and move toward your ministry—to sign up for your emails, make a donation, leave a blog comment, all the way up to joining your team. You don’t merely want to advertise and promote. You want to engage—to move them to action.
Few of us ministry leaders really enjoy the marketing and promotion aspects of our work. We prefer to do the “real work” of our calling. Yet if we don’t learn how to effectively engage our community and supporters, there likely won’t be any clients or congregation members to show up for our services—no one to do the “real work” with.
Let’s take a look at the things leaders need to understand about engaging meaningfully with our communities, congregations, and supporters.
How do you define your community?
It can be simple as a five-block area around your church or ministry location. Maybe it’s a city or a region. It may be statewide, national, or global.
With today’s technology we have the ability to engage in a very focused and immediate way with the communities we serve.
If you’re not actively involved in engaging, you are really missing out on building genuine relationships and connecting with people in life-changing ways.
Start with goals
Goals are essential when you are looking to engage your community. If you don’t set some goals, you really won’t know if you’re achieving the things you hope to. do. And if you don’t know if you’re achieving them, you’ll start to feel that your work is a waste of time and effort.
If you put some goals together you’ll actually be able to measure outcomes and gauge your success of your efforts.
You want to set your goals to fulfill your vision.
Quality goals must meet five critical criteria:
Where does engagement start?
How are you going to get the word out to your community? Most likely you will start with some form of public relations. Tell the story of your organization. There’s an old adage that says you have to raise awareness before you can raise money.
You have to raise awareness before you can get people to participate in what God has called you to do.
So tell the story, tell the story, tell the story. Just keep telling it. An attractive website and a presence on social media are great places to tell your story and begin to connect with your community.
Ultimately what we want is real people falling in love with our vision and growing closer to that vision. We want them to come alongside the ministry as God would call them, to make a difference.
Engagement is much more than just what advertisers call impressions—fleeting exposures to your message. Engagement is someone in your audience, someone you’re trying to reach, actually doing something. And doing something can be as simple as clicking on a link, opening your email, giving you their email address so they can download an e-book or something else of value. You want them to take action as a result of their encounter with your You don’t want them just out there going by, looking at your stuff and moving on. You want engagement.
And what’s the goal of that engagement? You want to get them involved in real relationships.
Become a newsmaker
One of the best things you can do for your organization is to become known to the media and your community as a newsmaker, the person they come to because there are great stories that come out of your organization.
There’s a high turnover for media nowadays, and there’s always a desire to bring a local spin to the story. Why don’t you be the person that they go to on the subject that you have expertise in? Whether it’s theology or women’s issues or whatever you are focused on, get them to understand you’re an expert at it, that you’ll give them a good interview, and you’ll know what you’re talking about. You’ll show up on time, and you’ll be there when they ask you and you’ll be responsive when they call. That’s how you become a newsmaker.
Newsmakers are the first ones they’re going to call. Frankly, reporters just go through their contact list until they find someone who will respond. That’s what you need to be—that person who is always responsive to what the media wants.
Repurpose your content
Christian ministries produce a tremendous amount of content on a weekly basis—classes, teachings, devotions, sermons. All of that material should be recorded and repurposed into blog posts, tweets, Facebook posts, and the like.
As much as we don’t like admit it, people don’t retain what you’re sharing with them. One of the questions I hear most about repurposing material is, “What if they’ve already heard it?”
Don’t worry about that. If they’ve heard it, they probably didn’t retain it. So saying it over and over again is one of the ways you help people to really understand your vision.
It’s really quite easy. All you have to do is find a volunteer who would write it, or hire a professional freelance writer or editor.
Helping them become part of your story
Get your story out there. Find the people who are interested in what you have to say, and engage them.
Think of it how these efforts are building your reputation in your community. It’s how people are starting to learn your heart and what God’s called you to do. Think of it that they’re learning from you. Every piece should have some educational content to it so people will learn and grow and find value.
And it all works to help you to engage with them, to encourage them and inspire them to move into deeper relationship with your ministry, into greater investment in the vision God has given you.
What ways have you found to help you to engage with your community?
Not all boards are created equal. While several factors can cause a leadership board to be ineffective, one common reason is the board model itself. When it comes to board structure and size, there are four basic models: The Elder Model, the “I Don’t Want to Lose Control” Model, the Secular Nonprofit Model, and what I consider to be the Ideal Model.
The Elder Model: Boards that rely on the Elder Model are typically composed of influential lay leaders who are likely involved because of their financial or ministerial influence. In this model, board members provide feedback and counsel to the senior leadership in the church and work very closely with the leadership. These boards are typically small—comprising five people or so—and they may be overworked because of their small size. They often don’t have the breadth of skills and experience required to support the ministry’s mission.
The “I Don’t Want to Lose Control” Model: In this model, the visionary/founder of the ministry sits on the board and essentially runs both the board and the ministry herself. The board members are simply figureheads and “yes” men. They don’t have in-depth information about the organization and therefore cannot provide sound counsel. Fiscal controls are generally not in place.
The Secular Model: The Secular Nonprofit Model employs a large, all-volunteer board where members operate at different levels of participation. Some members may be deeply involved, as with the Elder Model, while others are merely figureheads, as with the “I Don’t Want to Lose Control” Model. Despite this diversity in levels of commitment, all board members have an equal vote, and all authority rests in them. This type of board also may not see the visionary/found as an integral part of the ministry, leading to tension among board members. And decision-making may be difficult because of the number of board members who are permitted to offer opinions on board decisions.
The Ideal Model: What we at the Vision Group see as the Ideal Model is in reality a hybrid model. The founder/visionary is not a board member, but instead is a paid staff person. The board has two levels of participation and authority. There is an inner circle of close advisors that really understands and supports the visionary/founder. We call this the Executive Committee, and it closely resembles an elder board. This group may be composed of five or so people. This group makes recommendations to the board-at-large for a “yea” or “nay” vote. The board-at-large is a much larger group—up to 25 people—who are less informed and less involved, but may have money or important community connections. This group accepts or rejects recommendations it receives from the Executive Committee.
Four benefits of the hybrid model
There are several benefits to this model.
First, the visionary/founder receives a high level of support from the board. Second, the board is large enough that board members represent a variety of skills and have numerous contacts in the community that can be tapped on behalf of the ministry. Third, the Executive Committee structure ensures quick decision-making despite the board’s size. And finally, the board-at-large serves as a training ground for developing new leadership that could, in time, be added to the Executive Committee, preventing burn-out of Executive Committee members.
What model does your organization use? Is it time to consider a different model?
Mike Stickler—Pastor, philanthropist, Managing Partner of The Vision Group, Ltd.
My first stint in ministry was a homeless mission. I was 30 years old, just out of my career in sales, and I got roped into taking the position as executive director. They forgot to mention that it took a million bucks a year to keep the thing going.
They had about a half-million dollars in the bank that they were just sitting on. I found out that the money came from a lady who had passed away and donated that money to the organization. Her specific instruction was that we would use that money to develop more housing for the homeless. But the organization was sitting on it for a rainy day. I convinced them to release it, and we started building houses and facilities and really starting to take care of the homeless.
I had the privilege of being a camp director for a number of years. But before I became the director they made me the CFO. They said, “We’re out of money. We have tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of bills. We won’t have any money for five months. How’d you like to be the CFO?”
So they gave me the box of bills and the empty checkbook and a five-month calendar until I had money. And I said to them, “One of the things I know we have to do is be more generous.” And they said, “What do you mean? We’re a camp—we’re generous all the time.”
And I said, “No, we need to look for specific ways to be generous, because ultimately if God can get something through you, He can get something to you. So we need to practice generosity.” I actually wanted to give a tenth of the camp income to other Christian work beyond ourselves. And the board said, “We can’t do that. We can’t touch the cash. We don’t have any.”
But we came up with other ways that we were intentionally generous. We allowed the 12th person to come free whenever there were retreats. When we had 250 beds and we only had 150 beds filled, we’d call international groups to come in and be there for free. We started a scholarship program for needy children.
From an organizational side we made that decision. Now from a church side, I helped start a church. We started out with eight people and ultimately grew to about a thousand. And when we were just 20, 30, 40 people I said, “Every offering, we will set aside the first portion of our offering to give beyond ourselves.” And so that was in our DNA from the first month of operations—no matter how little we had, we would be givers from whatever we had.
Michael B. Williams—Pastor, Education Director of The Vision Group, Ltd.
As a pastor I was sent to a church that was struggling financially, struggling with its very low membership. The very first meeting I had with the board, the question was posed, “What are we going to do about getting more people and more money?”
And I said, “First of all, we’re not going to worry about getting more people and more money. What we’re going to do is see that we are in the business of being church. And that means being a house of prayer for the community. That means learning and. That means being available to those who have needs. And the people and the money part will take care of itself.”
Well, it did. It became part of our DNA, to make certain that we were doing the things that we understood ourselves called to do as church in that community.
What’s your story? Have you helped lead a ministry into greater generosity?
You can hear more about Effective Ministry Leadership from Brian Kluth, Mike Stickler, and Michael Williams on this week's featured program . They are just a few of the presenters at The Raise Your Vision Online Forum .