It is encouraging to know that 84% of CRCA congregational members would support the development of new initiatives in the ministry and mission of their local church. This is one of many findings in the recent NCLS (National Church Life Survey) survey conducted among CRCA churches. While not all churches participated in the NCLS survey, the results are still a good sampling of the vitality of CRCA churches. Over 1300 adult members participated, which is almost ¼ or 22% of the total adult membership in the CRCA. The 17 participating churches represented large as well as small churches, churches from every state, and new church plants in addition to long established congregations. In addition, the findings of the NCLS surveys also echo the survey results of the 25 churches that have done one or more NCD surveys. So what does the NCLS survey tell us about the CRCA? Well, here is a glimpse!
The vast majority of CRCA members are long term members (73%) with the majority of them born in Australia (58%). But we also have a large number of adult members who were born overseas (42%), with over ¼ or 26% of members who are new arrivals to their church in the past five years. What I found surprising is that at least ¼ or 24% of our adult members speak a language other than English at home. All of this tells me that while we have a stable church membership, there is an ever growing diversity in our churches.
What doesn’t surprise me is the high value people put on sermons, preaching, or teaching in their local churches. For the vast majority of our churches biblical preaching is their number one core Biblical value, and it is the CRCA’s commitment to the pure preaching of the Word of God that draws many, many people to find and maintain a church home in a CRCA congregation. Almost ½ or 49% of attenders spend time in prayer, Bible reading, and meditation every day or most days. This simply underscores the high value CRCA church members place on the Word of God.
About one-third or 32% of adult members value small groups as places where they can study the Word of God, support one another in prayer, and encourage each other in the Christian faith. But an almost equal number of people would like to see spiritual growth (39%) and a sense of community (34%) be given priority by their church in the next 12 months. These results echo the NCD results which show that two areas that require attention in our churches are ‘passionate spirituality’ and ‘loving relationships’. As churches who place a high value on Biblical preaching and small groups there is much opportunity and potential to raise the bar in the areas spiritual growth and Christian community. There is also much potential for spiritual growth with CRCA church attenders, with less than half or 43% saying that they have experienced much growth in faith in the previous 12 months. What can we do as local churches to raise the bar in the area of ‘spiritual growth’ or ‘passionate spirituality’? This is a question every pastor and church leader should be asking of themselves and their church.
I found it interesting that most attenders identified their gifts or skills as ‘hospitality: welcome, host, provide food’ (42%) and ‘communication: write, edit, speak’ (32%). I would love to explore this further with churches. For example, when it comes to hospitality do most church members simply think of greeting people at church, serving coffee afterwards, and doing the dishes? Or is there more? With such a large segment of our people identifying hospitality as their skill or gift, this is a huge opportunity for the gospel. Jesus used simply hospitality and meal time conversations to share some of the most profound truths of the gospel. When we open our homes to friends and strangers, put on a meal, and break bread together, we invite God’s blessing. Christian hospitality is key to the gospel, especially if we want to reach the many migrants and people from other faiths who are moving into our communities! Perhaps there is a whole lot more we can do in the CRCA to leverage these gifts and skills to reach the lost for Christ. It is also encouraging to discover that there is a large segment of our adult membership that would like to become more involved in their local church (23%).
I mention the priority of evangelism since outreach to the lost is really low on the radar of most of our people. While over half or 55% of our adult membership are involved in small groups within the church, only ¼ or 25% of people are involved in evangelism or outreach activities. In fact, the NCLS survey shows that over half or 53% are not involved in wider community groups. How can we as Christians ever reach the lost in our community is we are not engaged in our community? One of the reasons the CRCA is promoting ‘Organic Outreach’ to our churches is to encourage every member of the church to be sharing the good news naturally through everyday evangelism!
Finally, let me reiterate the encouraging finding through the NCLS survey that 84% of CRCA congregational members would support the development of new initiatives in the ministry and mission of their local church. As a CRCA denomination we are committed to be a church reforming to reach the lost for Christ. This is our vision, and our members are overwhelmingly ready to support the reforming that needs to take place. But less than half of our members or 43% are fully confident that their local church can achieve the vision, goals, or directions set! Here the CRCA denomination can assist. Through intentional ministry formation resources and coaching are made available to increase church health or vitality! The GROW and TRAIN workgroups are prepared to assist pastors, church leaders, and congregations to grow healthy churches, plant new churches, multiply disciples, and increase the number of well-trained leaders. If you have questions or desire more information, please fill out a contact form here.
The CRCA NCLS Summary Report is attached below.
Before launching into the growth areas brought to light by your NCD Survey, it may be that what you or your leadership most need right now is some encouragement. A breath of fresh air if you like. Fortunately, exactly the same survey that indicates your church's growth areas also evaluates its strengths with just as much rigor.
Spending some time exclusively focusing on the current strengths of your church should not be viewed as some kind of proud, self-congratulation exercise. The very core of NCD is about moving into the most natural partnership with God possible. Your church's current strengths are where that is happening best. So, acknowledging and celebrating the areas that come most naturally to you as a church, is in fact, an act of thanksgiving and praise. Put another way, it is about valuing the God who has grown that fruit in our midst, and honoring the people who have partnered with him (some for many years) in bringing that positive culture and fruitfulness about. We shouldn't really challenge those influential people about the growth areas of the church, without making sure they are shown respect for their part in establishing the strengths.
So take some time, on your own and with the leadership of the church, to consider your highest results. There will no doubt be some people who will immediately want to move to the lowest results to analyse and work out plans of action. However, if you feel some time of affirmation is needed first, let those people know that very soon we will move to the challenge areas and will end up spending the majority of time on those points. But for now, we should pause to consider what we already have. Start with the themes and quality characteristics that come most naturally to your church as seen through the Summary Guide and then through the Story Guide (Download your Summary or Story Guide if you prefer to print it off).
Click the button and consider the following questions:
If this is a repeat NCD Survey, there may be more encouragement to be found. The most obvious encouragement is that your Status Guide might be showing signs of progress since your last survey, or perhaps even across a number of steadily improving previous surveys. If that is the case, consider exactly the same kind of questions as above but relate them to the greatest points of progress (Download your Status Guide if you prefer to print it off).
Even if this is a repeat survey without signs of overall progress or even signs that the health of your church may have fallen somewhat, there may still be reason for some encouragement. Given that since your previous survey, work has been done and some decisions have been made, the positive effects of some of that may be evident in the Highest 10 Changes (page 26) of your Status Guide. Spend some time considering what those changes may be linked to and again, see if you are able to affirm those who helped to bring about those signs of new life. Sure, it would've been better to see progress in your church's minimum factor and overall results, but those Highest 10 Changes are an indicator that there is some capacity for change. Now you just need to focus the key influencers in this next phase in order to build on that.
Moving Your Church Through Growth Barriers (5)
Christianity is not a spectator sport. Australians know what it means to be a spectator. And Australians are not unique in this. Sport is big business and attracts huge crowds to stadiums. What typically happens is that you have a few players on the field who are active participants in the sporting event, be it Cricket, Soccer, Rugby, or the like. The rest are spectators and they come in the tens of thousands to watch these events. They might cheer on a player or a team, but for the most part, they simply watch; they are spectators.
But church life is not about sitting back in a comfortable pew and watching a few people on stage perform ministry. Church life is about fully participating in the ‘game’, engaging in Christian ministry. And this applies to not just a few paid professionals; it applies to all followers of Christ. If you want your church to break through growth barriers, then spectators have to be recruited, trained, and released into ministry. The percentage of active participants in ministry is one of the strongest indicators of church health and vitality and it points to a church’s growth potential.
Now when we speak about ministry we are not talking primarily about ‘serving the church’. The goal in the Christian life is not about doing stuff in or for the church. If you are a Christian you are the church. Now there are those in the church using their spiritual gifting but God has placed them there to prepare God’s people for ministry, for service. The Bible put it like this: “And God gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ …” (Ephesians 4:11-12) If you are serving the church by using your gifts, this ministry is to help the whole body be engaged in ministry. I have seen it before, and perhaps you have as well. There is a sign in front of church with the name of their pastor(s), but underneath you read: ministers – everybody! One would just hope that this signage translates into reality in the life of the congregation.
For a church to move through growth barriers we must overcome the idea that gospel ministry is about serving in a cross culture, most likely across some ocean, in some distant place. Ministry also is not limited to what doing something on the stage Sunday morning, or serving on a committee, or as a Sunday school or youth group leader. The culture of the church needs to move to an every member ministry – where ministry is not just something ‘professional’ ministers do, but ministry is the responsibility of all. All Christ followers are called to be a ministers in their own place and time, beginning in their homes, and beyond that in every area of their lives. The church provides training, tools, and experiences to prepare and help people be engaged is kingdom work 7 days a week, 24 hours of the day. This might mean helping people to equip others, but it ultimately means helping people be salt and light in their homes, neighbourhoods, workplaces, schools, wider community, and for some, going to serve overseas.
This every-member ministry of the church will require at least a couple strategic shifts in the life and ministry of the church. First, the church will have a clear discipleship strategy that is focused on preparing God’s people for works of serving/ministry. It is not enough for the church to assist people to come to faith in Christ, be baptised and/or make public their profession of faith. If that is the extent of discipleship, then what we have created is simply a crowd of spectators, consumers that look to be fed and entertained. The church needs to raise its game! People who come to faith need to be developed in knowledge and prepared for ministry. Those gifted to equip others will assist the whole church be prepared for a lifetime of Christian ministry.
Another shift is required. The church needs to see ministry as happening primarily outside the parameters of a Sunday worship service and/or the church building. The church understands that it exists for God’s glory and his mission. This mission is to all people, to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). So the goal of all the equipping and preparing of God’s people is not to get people to serve the church, but to serve God’s mission in the world. The question asked of people is not whether or not they are involved in some ministry in the church; the question asked is whether or not they are serving God’s mission, being ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18) in all areas of their life! Church might prepare people for ministry, but then they are sent out to serve, to be witnesses, and through Word and deed expand the gospel impact in their spheres of influence.
This focus on full participation of all Christians in ministry is part of the Protestant Reformation some scholars maintain still needs to fully realised: the priesthood of all believers! If one studies Scripture you discover that God’s original intent was all of his people be a kingdom of priests. God instructed Moses to tell the people of Israel: “…you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' (Exodus 19:5-6) All the people were to serve; they would be a priesthood of all believers. Moses declared his desire that all of God’s people would be filled with the Holy Spirit and engage in prophetic ministry: “But Moses replied, "Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD's people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!" (Numbers 11:29)
What happened? Well, if you follow the Biblical story you read how the people of Israel rebelled against God and the priesthood was restricted to the Levites, to Aaron and his family (see Exodus 28). But the story was not complete. Continue on in God’s story of redemption, his-story (history), after Christ’s life, death, and resurrection all believers are once again called to be priests: “As you come to him, the living Stone--rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him-- you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-5) The cross made all the difference. The priesthood is not restricted to certain people, but all believers. God poured out his Spirit on all people (Read Acts 2:14ff). The church is a spirit-filled priesthood, holy and set-apart for God’s service.
This Biblical truth of the priesthood of all believers culminates in the final pages of the Bible in John’s prologue to Revelation, where we read: “To [Jesus Christ] who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father--to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 1:5-6) The purchase of our redemption through the blood of Christ resulted in the church being made to be a kingdom of priests to serve God and his mission in this world.
Hence Christianity is not a spectator sport! Every believer is a participant. Every believer is a minister of the gospel. Every believer is called to serve. The church is a priesthood of all believers. For churches to break through growth barriers, this Biblical truth, reemphasized in the Reformation, needs to be fully realised!