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Church Transformation

Wise Advice for Christmas Eve Service: 9 Updated Trends for Christmas Eve Service


Wise Advice for Christmas Eve Service: 9 Updated Trends for Christmas Eve Service

MISSION NORTHWEST NOTE: This article by Thom Rainer is important to consider as you plan your Christmas Eve service(s) this year. You may want to retool how your church does the Christmas Eve service in light of these insights. If you do not offer a Christmas Eve service you should know that you are missing a great opportunity to host unchurched people in your church. This service has the potential to pull in more people than Easter. Plan carefully and prayerfully.


Christmas Eve is less than a month away. Most churches have some type of Christmas Eve services, but we are seeing clear trends in how churches approach them. Every time we write or podcast something about these services, we get a lot of comments and questions. In that context, here is an update on nine clear trends we are seeing:

1. It is growing in importance. Non-Christians are more likely to come to worship services on Christmas Eve than any other day of the year, including Easter. Church leaders get it. They are putting more prayer, preparation, and strategic thinking into the services.

2. There are three popular times for the service. Whether a church has one or multiple Christmas Eve services, three times are more popular than others: later afternoon (typically for families with young children and for older adults); early evening (the more traditional time); and late evening (for empty nesters and families with teenage or grown children).

3. The services are traditional. They include traditional hymns and carols. They may include some time for the lighting of the final advent candle.

4. The services are brief. The typical length is 30 to 45 minutes.

5. The pastor’s message is brief. The typical length is 10 to 15 minutes.

6. Most churches include candlelight services. They are now expected by Christians and non-Christians alike.

7. More unchurched are attending these services. As I noted in the first item, one of the reasons for the growing importance of Christmas Eve services is the increasing number of non-Christians who attend. Anecdotally, they seem to be more receptive each year.

8. Churches are building in processes for follow-up. That means they have processes in place to get contact information, and processes to provide some type of non-aggressive follow-up such as a text message, an email or, most effectively, a handwritten letter.

9. All ministry staff are expected to be there. Because this day is the single most important day to reach unbelievers, more churches require an “all-hands-on-deck” presence.

Some of these trends have been around a while. Some are only recently growing in importance. Please share with us what your church plans to do for Christmas Eve.


FBC Boise Changes It's Name, and Here's Why

FBC Boise Changes It's Name, and Here's Why

At a 154 years old and counting FBC Boise is the oldest congregation in Mission Northwest. It’s a strong, growing church occupying a classical style big steeple building in its downtown location. Recently it opened a new campus, Collister, when a nearby dying church invited FBC to move in and bring with it healthy ministry. Over the last five years FBC has also been a major player in planting two Boise Churches.

Recently FBC changed its name to “True Hope Church”. It is now “True Hope—First Baptist Campus” and “True Hope—Collister”.

In announcing the name change, Pastor Bruce Young posted the following article. As Mission Northwest churches strive to be more effective in reaching the Northwest with the Gospel it’s important to consider the rationale behind FBC’s decision to change their name. ~ Charles Revis
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“Get on the bandwagon” “Follow what’s trending” “Join the crowd” “Be more hip”

There’s something about all these statements that actually makes me want to go in the opposite direction.

I’ve never been a bandwagon sort of guy, which is why I have always resisted the lure to push for a name change from First Baptist Church to something more hip and trendy. Over the last 10-15 years, nearly every denominational church has changed their name. Often, their new name is a one-word title that is cheesy, meaningless, or just confusing.

For our church, we have an overwhelmingly positive 154-year history of ministry in the Treasure Valley. We have a good reputation with our neighbors, with the poor, with schools, with other non-profits, with our community. So, why change our name?

There are two main reasons:

1. Sadly, too many Baptist churches and Baptist leaders have burned bridges with our culture. For a large segment of society, Baptists are seen as legalistic, stuck in the past, flat-earth thinkers, and perhaps most damaging to the gospel, overtly political and even militant. This has led many to avoid visiting our church. Even today many who are now members of First Baptist Church initially resisted attending any Baptist church.

Fortunately, other forces were powerful enough to overcome their preconceptions and bring them through the doors and they are now joyfully a part of our church community. For many years we have heard from newcomers that ours was one of the last churches on their list to visit simply because of the reputation connected to the Baptist name.

2. For the fastest growing segment of our society (secularists), the name Baptist means nothing at all. It’s not a word they ever use nor does it stand for anything. It’s so foreign, in fact, that they don’t even associate it with baptism, which historically was a natural connection.

This is a problem for any business or organization which has a name that doesn’t direct people toward what it is or does. For example, a dry cleaning business that calls itself ‘Lampshade Company’. If you see the company name advertised on a van or city bus you would have no idea that it was a dry cleaning outfit. Likewise with the name Baptist.

In our world which is awash in bad news, true hope is in short supply. And, if we read the Scriptures correctly, these difficulties and problems (“birth pangs”) will only grow in intensity as we march into the future and the eventual return of Jesus Christ. In the meantime, Jesus is the only True Hope!

Therefore, without trying to be trendy, or hip, we believe the names True Hope First Baptist and True Hope Collister are more meaningful and descriptive names. And, for the downtown campus, retaining First Baptist in the name calls forth the wonderful history that has been etched into the annuls of the city of Boise since its inception. For this reason, we are not ready to completely eliminate First Baptist from our identity. While some will still have difficulty with the word ‘Baptist’, the ‘True Hope’ part of the name will at least convey our belief in a positive direction and outlook for the future through Jesus Christ.

~ Pastor Bruce Young

Increasing Guest Attendance

Increasing Guest Attendance

In this day of struggling churches it makes sense to return to the basics regarding why people choose to attend a church. Along with this discussion it’s also important to consider why people stick after that first visit. Ultimately it does no good to attract 10 new guests each Sunday if 100% of those guests fail to return. Makes perfect sense doesn’t it?

A basic rule of church growth is “Increase the number of guests who show up on Sunday mornings”. Most churches have the capacity to increase their number of guests if they work at it. Obviously there are other entry points other than Sunday worship. Small groups, mission teams, special events are all examples. For the purposes of this article I want to concentrate on Sunday worship since the majority of people check out a church at prime time, namely Sunday morning.

It’s helpful to know what influences a person to attend church on a given Sunday. Gary McIntosh conducted a study using a survey administered to 1,100 church goers to gain helpful insights in this regard. In the study he distinguished guests by two categories: Christ-followers and Seekers. Christ-followers have crossed the line of faith and show up at church usually because they are looking for a new congregation. Seekers are people who have not yet given their allegiance to Jesus. They are at some point in a journey towards Him, from initial interest to seriously seeking Christ.

Surprisingly McIntosh discovered that by far the most influential people for encouraging Seekers to check out your church are “Merchants” (41%). Merchants are people who interact with the public: hairstylists, fast food workers, bank tellers, realtors, car salespeople, etc. These are people who know about your congregation and its good reputation in the community.  That is, if your church has some positive name recognition these merchants will drop its name when the subject comes up. These merchants may include your own church members. They have great connectional influence. They will take the initiative to point people to your church, especially if they are deeply involved and love your congregation and its ministries.

The second most influential person for encouraging a Seeker to attend is a “Family Member” (17%), the third most influential is “No One” (17%), in fourth place a “Friend” (11%), in fifth place a “Neighbor” (4%) and finally a “Coworker” (3%). Based on my experience these stats ring true. In my last church a hairstylist was a champion at inviting Seekers to our church. She interacted with all kinds of people all day long and held nothing back when encouraging people to visit our church.

Based on this insight I would recommend that you pull together from among the congregation your most extroverted, winsome and respected merchants for a quick pow-pow. Encourage them to be intentional about their inviting habits. Support them in prayer. Provide them with calling cards to give to clients that includes basic church info: church name, address, worship schedule, mission statement and web address. Ask them for helpful feedback about the experiences their guests share with them after they visit. Use this information to improve your welcoming and assimilation system.

Additionally, it is important that your church raise its profile in your immediate community. One of the best ways to do this is to engage in several externally focused ministries.* These will improve your church’s name recognition, although this is never the primary motivation for doing such ministries. Consider leading your church in a steady emphasis on good neighboring so that more people will be aware of your church and its Christ-like love for everyday people.** Additionally, every pastor would be wise to make it a regular to meet local merchants.

The stats change dramatically when we examine who influences Believers to attend a church. “Merchants” have little influence (1%). Rather,  “Family Members” have the most influence at 30%. These are followed by “No One” (25%), “Friend” (22%), “Coworker” (3%) and “Neighbor” (2%). The most influential Family Members are Parents and Spouses.

The surprise in this study is the large percentage of Believers who show up at church with no previous connection to the church—the “No One” in the study at 25%. Most likely this is due to the rise of Social Media and the Web. An increasingly large number of people hear about a church, check it out online and then attend based on positive impressions from their Internet experience. In today’s world the first visit that most people will make to your church is through your web site. This is especially true for people under 40. Without a strong web presence your church will be virtually unknown. Therefore, it’s important to do a first rate job presenting your church through your web page and your Facebook page.

One of the more surprising insights based on this survey is the importance of theology. Even for Seekers, theology was important to 50% of those checking out a church. For Believers the percentage rose to over 90%. Guests want to know that your church has rock-solid beliefs. One Mission Northwest pastor asked an unbeliever with a critical eye to critique their church’s web site. Her response was intriguing. She said that there wasn’t enough emphasis on God! Her point was that people expect churches to have strong convictions about their beliefs. For these to be missing on a church’s web page is off-putting. McIntosh’s research affirms this to be true.

It’s no surprise that “Friendliness” also ranked high with Seekers at 72% and for Believers at 80%. Warmth and genuine interest in newcomers is highly important. But, the most important question in the mind of a guest is, “Can I make genuine friends here?” If there is a sense that all groups are closed, and there is no obvious onramp for making friends, then guests will move on to another church.

One additional factor is the critical part that the pastor’s preaching played in a guest coming to church. Believers ranked preaching at 90% in importance. Seekers ranked preaching at 75%. This is huge! Responders placed great value on preaching that applied to their lives, the authenticity of the pastor, and the pastor’s convictions. Preaching was more important to guests than worship style, the church’s location, and a variety of other factors such as programs. Least important was a church’s name. This is a clarion call to all pastors to continuously hone one’s preaching skills.

With this information in hand, every church can increase the number of guests who show up each Sunday. In my next article, I will share ideas for retaining guests.


*resources: The Externally Focused Church by Rick Rusaw & Eric Swanson; The Externally Focused Quest by Rick Rusaw & Eric Swanson

**resources: The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak & Dave Runyon; The Neighboring Church by Rick Rusaw & Brian Mavis

The Call to Prayer in the Church Transformation Process


The Call to Prayer in the Church Transformation Process

Pastor Jason Bowker FBC Bozeman 

I’m currently working my way through a really great and challenging book called The U-Turn Church, where the authors address how churches in decline might turn around and begin traveling the path toward health, vitality, and sustainability. I’m loving it so far and plan to actually preach through the first four chapters of the book in April when we finish our journey through Luke. But the chapter I most recently finished was about the necessity of prayer in turning a church around….and it was terribly and wonderfully convicting.

The author declares that “desperate needs require desperate preayers,” and I couldn’t agree more. We find ourselves at a crossroads in the life of our church, desperately needing to turn the corner and head in a new direction toward healthy and faithful ministry—and desperate prayer seems like a vital aspect of this change. So I’m committing to becoming a man and pastor of fervent prayer. I’m committing to praying for you all and our church and our community. I’m committing to praying for our future and that God would faithfully provide. I’m committing to boldly praying that God would use us to save the lost, heal the hurting, and comfort the brokenhearted. And I’m strongly inviting—compelling—you to join me in this prayer journey. 

[Reprinted by permission from the March 2016 issue of FBC Bozeman's church newsletter.]

[Mission Northwest Note: The book U-Turn Church: New Direction for Health and Growth by Kevin Harney and Bob Brouwer was the LLC book of the month for February]



How Do Old Churches Stay Young & Healthy

Want to learn some excellent biblical approaches to help your church grow? Take 35 minutes and view this message by Dr. Dane Aaker, lead pastor at Centerpoint Church in Colton, CA. Dane delivered this message on November 23, 2014 at FBC Boise, ID as part of their 150th Anniversary Celebration.

Dane is a long-time friend of ABC Northwest and has spoken at many events including the Leadership Tune-Up. Download the sermon notes, watch the video and share it with your church board. Great material!


Rebooting Discipleship

My 86 year old mom's computer still uses Windows Vista for its operating system. It’s slow as molasses. I’ve tried to fix it. It needs constant fiddling and rebooting to make it work properly.  What happened to it? Sludge that accumulated over time.

Preaching to Post-Moderns

The Sunday morning sermon is THE primary event in the rhythm of church life. But it has always been a mixed bag--sometimes highly effective, other times as boring as Lawrence Welk re-runs. In some eras educated ministers preached oratorial masterpieces.

An Avoidable Future

The last two weeks of January I spent in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, for my two week PHD residency requirement with the International Baptist Theological Seminary. While there was much to be grateful for in those two weeks, there were several things that were sobering reminders of what is at stake for us on our mission together in the Northwest.

New Life as Expectation

On January 25th Karen and I welcomed our first grandchild into the world. There’s little doubt Colton Charles Siegfried is the cutest baby on the planet. Hah! Karen had predicted he would arrive on her birthday, and she was right. Colton’s arrival was a super nice birthday gift!

Mission Supportive or Mission Engaged?

As American Baptists we have a long and storied history of mission engagement. There is much to celebrate. Many have come to know Christ and have experienced life-transformation through the dedicated work of our missionaries and our mission sending agencies.

Responding to the “T” in S.W.O.T.

Are you familiar with the acronym, S.W.O.T.? It refers to an assessment matrix that examines these four areas: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It was developed for assisting in the planning of a project or organization

Leaders Bust Some Transformation Moves

Charles Revis, Executive Minister, ABC of the Northwest

One definition of leadership is simple, “Knowing what needs to be done and then doing it” (Leith Anderson). Good leaders not only discern what must be done, they act. Many in leadership positions never lead because they fail to act. They wait for others to move. This is deferring leadership. Good leaders know that their actions will create pushback. Resistance is expected, but they lead anyway. 
During a recent gather of ABCNW’s mentor pastors I asked the group to identify the most significant moves they made that set the stage for transformation in their own congregations. The responses were as varied as they were enlightening. I’ve listed them for you to examine.
Perhaps these moves will inspire you to make needed changes in your own church. If you would like more information about any one of these simply send me an email, identify which number and I will be happy to provide you with more details. Here’s the list:
1. I identified the spiritual strongholds. One was money. The congregation thought that money in the bank would guarantee their future and instead it was tying them up in knots. They changed their attitude towards money. Now, they are generous, especially when moving ahead with new ministry initiatives! And, ministries have flourished. 
2. I worked at increasing my spiritual depth as the pastor and stopped being the church’s chaplain. 
3. I trained my leaders in the materials that the Region has had me study. I opened up this training to anyone who would participate. Plus, we took our first missional steps, getting out into the community. Then we moved from there, looking for open doors. The “Life on Loan” training resource by Rick Rusaw was helpful in training and inspiring our people.
4. Persistence through a long, slow-paced journey of transition while keeping our eyes on Jesus. I introduced change, there would be conflict, things would settle down, then growth happened.
5. I have developed a team of evangelists who are always looking for outreach opportunities to touch the community. 
6. I led our church to move from an inward orientation to outward focus. Getting them out into the community was critical. We moved from survival to ministering. 
7. I focused on worship issues! We moved towards excellence. Streamlined the flow of worship. Dropped the embarrassing thing that the church used to do that put visitors on the spot. Now our worship service is more inviting to the newcomer and the existing church attender.
8. I changed the mental models. This was the big one! We moved from the “we are the church people” versus “those are the non-church people” perspective in our stance towards the people in our small town. We blew that mental model up. Now we approach the people in our community as people we love and care about regardless of their attendance on Sunday morning.
9. I strengthened the identity and confidence of the congregation; and then turned it outward. We’ve been using theater productions to raise our profile, first at the church, then out in the community. Two-thirds of the cast of the last production came from outside our church. We adopted a school. We provided housing for a teacher. We send encouraging notes to the teachers. Provide cookies. We do a Service Sunday. We’ve gone to the elementary school and painted equipment. 
10. I started small groups using Purpose Driven materials, then moved to sermon-driven small groups. We now call these “Growth Groups”. They’ve helped to transition our church in the right direction as we’ve grown.
11. Our church has become heavily involved in mission teams: in our local community and overseas. We constantly encourage our people with these words, “Giving ourselves away, moving in an outward direction.” The turning point for us came when our people engaged in missions, hands on. This push continues to build a spirit of giving themselves away. 
12. First we changed our structure from multi-committees to a single board. This has freed up people for ministry. Second thing, I’ve been receiving coaching through Nelson Searcy’s ministry. Attendance is up and so is involvement in small groups. 
13. I’ve been working to change the DNA of our church over the last several years and it is now catching fire. For training we use “The Externally Focused Church” by Rick Rusaw and “Present-Future” by Reggie McNeal. 
14. The greatest transition has taken place within me as the pastor. Also, we’ve changed the simple structure things, and have also focused on bringing the heart back to the church. 
15. I’ve led numerous changes. One noteworthy change was in our seating pattern in the main sanctuary. We moved from a shotgun arrangement to a sideways format which moved every seat closer to the front. This has increased worship involvement. Another change: We no longer have multiple standing committees and boards. Our structure is organized around ministry. Focus on ministry has resulted in growth.