Many evangelical churches face the problem of the open "back door"even as new people arrive, older members are leaving, looking for something else. Combined with this problem is the discipleship deficit, the difficult truth that most evangelicals are not reaching the unchurched at the rates they think they are. In fact, many of the metrics that we often "count" in the church to highlight success really don't tell us the full story of a church's spiritual state. Things like attendance, decisions, dollars, and experiences can tell us something about a church, but not everything.
To cultivate a spiritually healthy church we need a shift in our metricsa "grace-shift" that prioritizes the work of God in the lives of people over numbers and dollars. Are people growing in their esteem for Jesus? Is there a dogged devotion to the Bible as the ultimate authority for life? Is there a growing interest in theology and doctrine? A discernible spirit of repentance? And perhaps most importantly, is there evident love for God and for our neighbors in the congregation?
Leading a church culture to shift from numerical success to the metrics of grace can be costly, but leaders who have conviction, courage, and commitment can lead while avoiding some of the landmines that often destroy churches. Wilson includes diagnostic questions that will help leaders measureand lead team transparency in measuring as a groupthe relative spiritual health of their church, as well as a practical prescriptive plan for implementing this metric-measuring strategy without becoming legalistic.
Most attractional church models can lean heavily on making changes to the weekend worship gatherings. And while some of these changes can be good, thriving grace-focused churches are driven by a commitment to the gospel, allowing the gospel to inform and shape the worship service and the various ministries of the church.
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About the Author
Jared C. Wilson is the director of content strategy at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, managing editor of For the Church, and director of the Pastoral Training Center at Liberty Baptist Church in Kansas City, Missouri. He speaks at churches and conferences around the world every year and blogs regularly at The Gospel Coalition. His books include Your Jesus Is Too Safe, Gospel Wakefulness, The Imperfect Disciple, and Supernatural Power for Everyday People. He lives in the Kansas City Northland with his wife, Becky, and their two daughters, Macy and Grace.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: The Dilemma
This chapter will introduce the problems many evangelical churches, including (perhaps, especially) numerically growing ones, continue to facenamely, the wide-open “back door.” Many churches have expressed that they tend to see as many people leave as arrive, or that they continue to lose members who would otherwise be considered mature. Sometimes these folks say frustrating things like “I’m not being fed.” This chapter will address the demonstrable discipleship deficit in the church and also offer the provocative claim that evangelicals are not reaching the unchurched at the rates they think they are – even the churches aimed at the unchurched tend to be falling short in this area. But acknowledging there is a problem is the first step to addressing it.
Chapter 2: The Metrics That Don’t Tell Us Everything
This chapter will outline the number of things we often “count” in a church that don’t actually tell us the whole story of a church’s spiritual stateattendance, decisions, dollars, and experiences. Following from Jonathan Edwards’s classic work The Distinguishing Marks of a Move of the Spirit of God, readers will see how the things they normally count can tell them something about their church but not everything, or even the most important things. This chapter will cover what we might call “neutral signs” and explain why what we normally count is normally enough.
Chapter 3: The 5 Metrics That Keep Us On Mission
If a leader is interested in actually cultivating a spiritually healthy churchnot just a big onehe will need to shift his sense of measurement in church growth. Counting heads and dollar signsor even “decisions”is good, but doesn’t tell us everything we need to know. This chapter will follow Edwards’s proposal for 5 marks of a genuinely fruitful churchnamely:
i. A growing esteem for Jesus.
ii. A dogged devotion to the Bible.
iii. An interest in theology and doctrine.
iv. A discernible spirit of repentance v. An evident love for God and neighbor
Obviously these metrics are harder to “count” than what we normally use to measure our church health, so the chapter will also include a list of diagnostic questions to help leaders measureand lead team transparency in measuring as a groupthe relative spiritual health of their church, as well as a practical prescriptive plan for implementing this metric-measuring strategy without becoming legalistic!
Chapter 4: Putting the Gospel in the Driver’s Seat
The opening chapter will explain (gently) how not all purposes in the purpose-driven model of “doing church” are created equal and make a succinct biblical case for gospel-centrality. The main foci will be defining the attractional and gospel-centered paradigms and distinguishing them from each other and then demonstrating both biblically and statistically why the attractional model doesn’t accomplish what it hopes to
Chapter 5: Steering from the Stage
As Melville says in Moby Dick, “The pulpit is the prow of the world.” This chapter will focus on the importance of gospel-centered preaching as the primary way to “seed” gospel-centrality in a church culture and direct a church away from an attractional ethos to desire more beholding of the glory of Christ. I will talk about what gospel-centered preaching looks like: the difference between the to-do’s and the “It is finished” of the gospel, the logic of Christ-centered preaching, and how to preach different genres and texts in ways that make Jesus and his finished work the main point.
Chapter 6: Building Your Service Around Beholding
The attractional church leans too heavily on cleverness and creativity in its weekend worship gatherings. This chapter will argue that our worship service tells a story about what we believe and communicates where our trust for transformation lies. I will describe how the gospel ought to inform and shape the worship service, covering everything from song selection to order of service. I