“Houston, We Have A Problem…”

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If the church was a mission to the moon, and I was the commander of the mission, my call to Mission Central would be: “Oh God, we have a problem!” The problem is that when the vast majority of people think of the Church, or of a Christian, their thoughts are negative!

The Church in America needs to go through a re-branding process.

By re-branding I mean simply this: We need to begin to work hard to reshape the association that comes to mind when the average person thinks of one of those ‘C’ words.

Contrary to what is spoon-fed to us by the Christian media, the problem with the image of the Church is not a result of an inundation of negativity from the ‘secular media.’ Please please, let’s retire that word, it is so ‘us vs. them.’ Jesus never thought in those terms. When we use terms like that we sound like victims like everyone is out to get us.

The truth is we have an image problem that we have created ourselves. Mostly out of sheer, 100% laziness. Instead of living out the life of Jesus on a daily basis, we have sought the ‘good life’ like all of our neighbors. After decades and generations of doing that we wonder, ‘Gee, I wonder why no one listens to us? I wonder why no one takes us seriously?’ My response: ‘Gee, my foot!’ Laziness leads to no credibility. It’s really that simple.

If we begin to live out the lifestyle of Jesus we will begin to see the results, the fruitfulness of Jesus all around us. It pretty much boils down to that simple proposition.

On one of my other websites focusing on servant evangelism, I want to add a thought-provoking weekly feature for readers, entitled ‘The Wait Person of the Week.’ We will feature a photo of a person who waits on tables, then a short mp3 recording of this person’s take on a Sunday afternoon after-church crowd, specifically how they behave and tip. I have a few of these recordings and photos ‘in the can.’ They are both hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time.

But one thing is consistent: Church people are consistently widely known for being:

1. Mean

2. Demanding

3. Cheap

4. A caricature of over-doing it with religiosity. They usually pray long-winded prayers that are full of language that hasn’t been spoken on Planet Earth in several hundred years. As they prayed their ‘special prayer,’ as one waitress put it, the Church people had no compassion for her as she held several plates of steaming hot food. They made no effort whatsoever to speed up their prayer.

5. Joyless

6. Passionless

7. Judgmental

In general, they seem convinced that if they leave a little piece of paper, AKA a ‘tract,’ that piece of information is far more worthwhile than something practical like a normal tip.

[There is no extra charge for the following information: In my book, a ‘normal’ tip is at least 25% – that’s at a bare minimum. As a leader in the Church I implore you if you leave less than 25%, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do not under any circumstances make all Christ followers look like asses and pray for your food in public. If you insist on being a cheapskate, first go home after church, get into something other than clothes that might cause restaurant personnel to connect you with having gone to church, then again don’t pray, and at least show the waiting staff great kindness, smile a lot and give them as high a percent as you have the faith to give. Then for Pete’s sake, get to the 25% level of tipping as soon and as fast as possible.]

The churches we have planted in southwest Ohio have survived for the most part.

As I count them, I have sent out 53 churches. Not all of them have taken the name of my denomination. I love my group, but I haven’t insisted that they take that name. Roughly half of them have been a part of that group. That is 25 in total.

Of that total of 53, only 3 have failed to my knowledge, though I don’t have absolutely clear data on all of those churches, that number is pretty close to accurate, within a church or two. In any case, we have had a success rate of right around 95% in our planting. For some reading, this that percentage means absolutely nothing. Hold on to your hats I’m getting to a great point momentarily.

By contrast, over the past 20 years, during the wave of church planting that has gone on since the early 1980s, right around 80% of all churches across the board have failed. Of those that have been deemed a ‘success’ the number of attendees is 200 showing up on a once a month basis after 3 years. In other words, after three years and a tremendous amount of work, and in most cases, a tremendous amount of money (most denominations spend on the average of $200,000 per church plant, many spend far more) ‘success’ is seeing about 100 in total attendance on an average weekend.

If you knew me you would realize that I could never live with myself if that was my definition of ‘success’ no matter what was happening with other pastors in the area.

That may be fine and dandy for some, but my internal, mental, emotional wiring is not, was not ever made for that kind of ‘success.’

If that were my experience I would either get into selling used Volvos or jump off the nearest tall bridge after leaving an eloquent note on my laptop journal (mostly kidding about the bridge!).

If you know the story of what happened in Cincinnati, after 15 years we went from 5 people to averaging 7,500 on weekends. But more importantly, we had all of those spin-offs. Oh, one more caveat, those spin-offs were not ‘average’ sized churches either. They were, as churches go, large.

We continue to plant new churches on a regular basis around southwest Ohio. It is common for our churches to launch with a minimum of 200 and often with 300 in week one.

I’m sorry for the mainstream terminology, but it’s called ‘Branding.’ In my time launching and leading churches, growing from 5 to 7,500, we served and served and served. With each bottle of water that was given out, with each pack of M&Ms, with each pack of Juicy Fruit gum, with each toilet that was cleaned, and with each act of genuine service, the works of Jesus were being done and we were telling people, “This is a practical expression of God’s love.” “We are Christ-Followers.” “We are from the Cincinnati Vineyard.”

When the works of Jesus are done the results of Jesus soon follow.

We were re-defining some old words to have completely new meanings. Instead of agreeing on a given word, we were, and this is very important, “showing what we were telling.” For the rest of our lives, this is the way we will communicate, redefining words with our actions in a positive way.

We did the above a LOT. Many will agree with our message and our methods but they make the mistake of missing what I call the ‘Law of Inundation.’ In order for this to “work,” we must plaster the ever-living daylights out of our communities with these acts of Jesus.

One church planter I know of thought he’d show the love of Jesus as he launched so he touched 10,000 people with practical acts of love. As he told me this he thought I would be impressed by this project. I kept waiting for him to finish the story. After a long uncomfortable pause I asked, ‘Are you finished with your story?’

The ‘Law of Inundation’ says that we must ‘love, serve to the degree that the entire city, area can’t possibly miss the living demonstration of the love of God in a practical way.’

Let’s work like dogs and cats this week, by the power of God’s Spirit moving through us, to re-configure the image that comes to mind when our neighbors think of the ‘C’ words.

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