This is the first interview in a series of five with Professor Scholte on the Christian Church today.
Interviewer question: “You have studied and assisted many churches around the country. Would you explain the strategies or ideas which you have found helpful for a church to become and remain missional? Is there any particular one that excites you?”
Professor Scholte: “Well, you have to take into account the most fundamental principle in the development of Churches. There is no cookie cutter, one size fits all, silver bullet answer. It depends on many different attributes, like the churches history, the demographics where ministry exists, the gifts, talents, and resources the church possess.
What does excite me are churches which have the willingness to take an honest looks at themselves and their communities. Those who desire to learn how they can use what God has naturally given them. To know their particular ‘church personality,’ meaning their gifts and style, to reach and develop people into fully devoted followers of Christ. To have the desire to accomplish God’s Calling as a ministry, to be willing to stretch, even if it means a painful process of transformation.”
Interviewer question: “So you are saying that each church is unique and one must know each situation to speak directly about which strategy or idea will assist the church to stay in the missional mode.”
Professor Scholte: “True, however, I can speak generally to three types of churches and strategies that have shown consistent results.
First, the healthy church. These churches are simply looking to take the next step in ministry. These churches have caught on to the fact that to be missional is to be intentional. They know that mission starts with understanding their communities and the desire to reach them through relevant and practical ways. Not compromising the biblical witness, but not being restrained by the ‘we have never done it that way before’ mantra that prevents so many declining churches from remaining missional.
They have intentionally created a system that takes a seeker and moves them to be a fully devoted follower of Christ. So they realize the value of the people who come for the first time. Knowing they are valuable because God values them. They also value the seeker because they know the work that other church members have done to invited their friends, or those who have exercised their gift of evangelism, or the time, effort, and expense the church has placed in advertising.
Interviewer question: “Intentional? Aren’t most churches naturally friendly and open to new people? Do they really need to develop a system?”
Professor Scholte: “Yes, I believe they must develop a system. Every church says that they are “friendly.” But healthy churches are consistently demonstrating their friendliness intentionally. By this, I mean they train people to specifically reach out and introduce themselves. To learn more about the seeker, answer any questions, share the churches ministry such as small groups and other events, invite them back, and make sure to introduce them to at least one other person at the church. They are also trained to look for the seeker the next week. Again to introduce them to one other person and invite them to an event or even out to lunch.
With the support and encouragement of members, as the seeker gets involved in a small group, bible study, or other church activity they have the opportunity to learn more about Christ, find their gifts, and become a part of reaching others in the same intentional way.”
Interviewer question: “Is there anything else that healthy churches have consistently shown?”
Professor Scholte: “I have found one big consistent pattern in healthy churches, and it is really a ‘values’ attribute. Not only are healthy churches intentional they have an atmosphere of excitement based on a feeling that their ministry is life changing. These churches teach their congregations that they are a part of a larger plan. Everything the church does, preaching, teaching, men’s ministry, women’s ministry, youth, and so on, is focus on fulfilling the purposes of God in the world today.”
Interviewer Question: “What do you think these Churches consider as the purposes of God?”
Professor Scholte: “Simply, the Great Commission. They are mission minded. Along with being intentional, and focused, these churches are mission minded. What I mean by that is they have a good balance between domestic and global missions. Keeping the mission in front of the church they will often have individual’s share a testimony. This may be done in worship or through church publications that show the impact of the churches mission. The church also sponsors mission trips for people to get first hand experiences, and those experiences are also shared with the congregation. They also support global mission festivals or conferences and invite full-time missionaries who are on furlough to update the congregation concerning their life and work.”
Interviewer Question: “Is there anything else on healthy churches?”
Professor Scholte: “These are a few of the broader strategies that you find in healthy churches. It would be my pleasure to discuss more specific ones with anyone that would like more information. Scholte Consulting Services is always ready to help churches take the next step in their ministries. People can call me directly at 858-444-7666 or send me an e-mail at email@example.com.”
Interviewer Question: “You mentioned that there are three types of churches, obviously the first was the healthy church. What is the second type?”
Professor Scholte: “The second type is the declining membership church.
Interviewer Question: Is there anything that can be done to help the declining church become and remain missional?”
Professor Scholte: Yes there is, however to help a declining church become and remain missional is the most challenging assignment my company can take on. But before I go into the dynamics of this challenge, I want to make a comment about one key element that has to be present for there to be any chance of success. The demographic region in which the church exists must still have a pool of unchurched people from which to draw. If the area itself is declining and people are moving away, and it has no base from which to draw, it is only a matter of time before the church will die.
Interviewer Question: “What do you do in that situation?”
Professor Scholte: “We tell the pastor or leadership team that the kindest thing they could do would be to help it die with dignity. They can assist the church to live out its remaining years with meaning and purpose, and perhaps to suggest that it leave something to the community or their denomination as a living testament and legacy.”
Interviewer Question: Ok, so what if their demographic can support renewal?”
Professor Scholte: Well, many times we have found that a churches mission may have become focused on its historical roots and past heritage rather than the present and future mission. If this is the case a change can be made, and the church can become missional, but it is very difficult.
Interviewer Question: “As we have talked about the declining membership church and making it more missional, you have used the word ‘challenging’ and ‘difficult’ several times, it’s starting to sound like its impossible.”
Professor Scholte: “Although difficult it is not impossible, particularly if you have two fundamental keys to open the lock against a mission orientation.”
Interviewer Question: “Well that’s good to know. What are these two keys?”
Professor Scholte: “The first key is time. It takes an enormous amount of time to turn a declining church into a mission driven one. The reason is change. Churches that are focused on their heritage or historical roots often resist change because that means things will be different. The unknown of change makes people feel uncomfortable. They lose the familiar feel of the past. A church self-study which will produce a ten or fifteen year strategic plan is an important first step. Then the plan must be introduced into the life of the church with incremental steps towards each goal. Another important part of the process is celebrating when each milestone is reached, this is often neglected but is so essential to keeping a positive spirit around renewal.”
Interviewer Question: “Alright, so it a process that needs incremental steps. You can’t just jump to some lofty goal. It takes time. What do you advise pastors to do with this time?”
Professor Scholte: “I advise them to spend it on their leadership, because the second key is leadership. The Elders, Deacons, or leadership team, along with other vital stakeholders in the congregation, must be willing to bring the church back to missional mode. They must also realize it will take a commitment which will mean a great deal of their time and energy. The pastor must focus much of his attention on his leadership team. He will spend a great deal of time building their trust and teaching and training them in the art of being change agents. It would also be necessary to train the leadership team in conflict management, because change will make them a focus of any discontent in the congregation.”
Interviewer Question: ‘Time and leadership are two key points that will assist a church to be mission driven. I am sure there are more specific ones which you could share with churches when they contact you.”
Professor Scholte: “It would be my pleasure to discuss with any pastor or leadership board more specific things that can be done. As I mention earlier the more specific things come out of a churches particular situation. My initial consultation is free and people can call me directly at 858-444-7666 or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org”
Interviewer Question: “What’s the final type of church that you would like to discuss?”
Professor Scholte: “I am only going to make a few brief comments on the third type of church. Because the third type are churches in congregational or pastoral conflict. For churches in this situation the conflict must be resolved before they could become missional. Conflict, big or small, always draws energy away from the purpose of the church and slows down its ministry.
In 1994, I along with Rev. Hank Elgersma and Rev. Kenneth Zuitoff, wrote the paper, Resolving Conflict In the Church, for churches in the Illinois Classis in the Reformed Church in America. In the paper we outlined a 5 point framework and mediation process to assist pastors and churches dealing with conflict. This framework included:
A scriptural basis that provides for a church growth perspective.
An emphasis on strong pastoral leadership for growth.
Highlighting the guidelines in the Book of Church Order.
Blending reconciliation, confrontation, and encouragement.
Enhancing communication between pastor and classis, church and classis.
We have seen this work well in churches and it is the basis of the conflict management process we use with churches today. To learn more about the mediation process please contact me I would be happy to talk with you further. The truth of the matter is this; if your church is in conflict it will not be able to become missional or stay in the mission mode without resolving the conflict.”
Interviewer Closing Comment: “Thank you Professor Scholte for sharing these comments. For those of you who may need some assistance with taking the next ministry step, being change agents, or resolving conflicts, we encourage you to give John Scholte a call at 858-444-7666, or send him an e-mail email@example.com or visit his website: www.scholteconsulting.com.”