By John Albiston
Have you ever seen churches of the living dead? From a distance they almost look like the living – they move and shuffle about and even occasionally moan and make some noise. But up close you’ll see they have no vision, no passion, no plan, and definitely no new life. Unlike the army of God taking orders from on high, in the church of the living dead it’s every zombie for himself driven only by their relentless hunger for someone to feed them and make them happy.
How do we prevent our churches from operating as mindless zombie drones shuffling along doing what we’ve always done? How do we keep our people from degenerating into ravenous corpses who only call out for more and more? And what do we do if the zombie apocalypse has already hit our church? Is there a way from death back to life?
Your mission, brave leader, if you choose to accept it, is a dangerous one. You are vastly outnumbered and the living dead do not suffer those who seek to deny them. I will give you six silver bullets – and you will need all six – to drive back the darkness.
There is no guarantee that you will survive.
Silver Bullet #1 – The Mission
Why does your church even exist? Why do you still draw breath? Why wasn’t every member of your church instantly sucked right up into heaven the moment they decided to follow Jesus? Why? The Mission.
Jesus Christ Himself gave us, His church, the same mission – go into the world and make disciples. There are no exceptions, there is no vote, there is only obedience or disobedience.
Jesus said that He came to seek and save the lost. If we are truly going to be His church we need to be going about His business. Unfortunately, far too many churches and church leaders have substituted the Great Commission for something else. Something good, I’m sure. Something that sounds very admirable, noble, and pious. But something other than obedience none the less.
If we’re going to reverse the decay and corruption in our church – returning to the Great Commission as the primary reason for our existence and the most important measure of our success is a non-negotiable.
Returning to The Mission is the first step, but only the first step.
Silver Bullet #2 – Your Vision
Vision is about looking ahead. It’s about sight and focus. It’s about what we specifically want to accomplish. In the church your vision is all about what it looks like to follow the Great Commission right here and right now in your specific context.
Vision isn’t independent from the mission – quite the opposite. Your vision completely depends on it. Your vision is essentially about how you see yourself and your church applying the Great Commission to your lives. It’s about where you’re going to place your focus, who you’re going to place your focus, and what you’re going to place your focus on.
Where you’re going to place your focus is pretty easy. Just look at your church on a map and draw a circle around it. That’s where you need to focus on. Seriously, if God wanted your primary focus to be overseas, He would have put you overseas.
Who you’re going to place your focus on is a little more difficult. Obviously it will be on the people who are inside of your geographic circle. But trying to focus on everybody usually won’t work (and it’s literally the opposite of the meaning of the word ‘focus’). Nobody likes a radio station that plays country music *and* rap. Aiming for no target will always result in hitting no target.
Who should you focus on? Probably the people God has already equipped you to reach. This will be determined by the language, culture, and demographics of your congregation. If there are significant numbers of unreached people in your location who are very different from you, then some sort of a targeted church plant might be the best option.
Finally, what you’re going to place your focus on is all about doing what needs to be done to reach who you’re placing your focus on.
Silver Bullet #3 – Strategies
Once we have clearly understood our mission and vision and can see who we’re called to reach and what we’re supposed to do with them, then we’re ready for silver bullet #3 – Strategies.
Strategies are simply the processes and models you’re going to adopt in order to accomplish your vision:
What are you going to do to communicate who you are to your target?
You’ll need a strategy.
What are you going to do to make them feel welcome once they arrive?
You’ll need a strategy.
What are you going to do to make a lasting impact during the service?
You’ll need a strategy.
What are you going to do to follow up?
You’ll need a strategy.
What are you going to do to get them to connect?
You’ll need a strategy.
What are you going to do to get them to come to faith and then grow into maturity?
You’ll need a strategy.
You’re probably seeing a pattern here. Strategy is figuring out what you’re going to do to accomplish your vision.
The best strategies can be thought of as a process. For example, consider the biological Great Commission in Genesis to “fill the Earth and multiply”. To accomplish the vision to fill the Earth we need a three stage strategy:
- Make the babies.
- Raise the babies.
- Kick the babies out of the house so they can make babies of their own.
All three parts of this strategy are absolutely essential. If we don’t make babies in the first place we will go extinct. I know from experience that parenthood does not end at childbirth and can assure you that if we don’t raise babies into adults we will also go extinct. Finally, if we don’t kick them out of the house all we end up with is 40 year old virgins living in our basement watching Star Trek – and we’ll go extinct.
The spiritual Great Commission is no different. We need to reach people, teach people, and mobilize them to reach more – or else we go extinct.
Silver Bullet #4 – Tactics
If strategy is figuring what to do to accomplish the vision, tactics are all about how to do it. Simply put, strategy is done above the shoulders, while tactics are done below the shoulders. In the military, the strategist will determine that we need to take that hill, while the tactician will determine how to do that.
In the church the strategist will clearly understand the need to follow-up with newcomers. The Great Commission mandate of making disciples is obviously not going to work if people only come once. However, it is the tactician who will understand that we will need to do so within 24 hours of their visit. The strategist will know that the purpose of follow-up is the development of a relationship (they’ve noticed that Jesus actually knew the people he discipled). However, it is the tactician who will realize that a hand-written, hand-addressed note will do this a million times more effectively than a form letter.
“What is the best way to…” is the battle cry of the tactician. It’s all about improvement and refinement of systems, strategies, and procedures to make the vision a reality. Strategy may be the engine, but tactics are the wheels. Without tactics strategy remains just an idea. Without strategy tactics has no goal to achieve.
Silver Bullet #5 – Training
By now the strategist and the tactician have given us a solid plan, but a plan without execution is only paper. If we actually want to do this we need to equip our people for the task at hand.
The first step in successful training is always to start with the big why. The majority of people will not be committed to the task based on their love of the what, but on their love of the why. Fortunately, if you’ve used bullets one to four, you should be crystal clear on the why behind the what. All you have to do is concisely connect the dots between the mission and their actions.
Convince them of the vital importance of the mission. Motivate them with the vision. Inform them of your strategy. And challenge them with your tactics. When people can see a meaningful connection between their actions and completing the mission you will have brought the dead to life and created an unstoppable force of volunteers.
Once they understand the why, show them the what. One of the worst things churches do is throw untrained volunteers into a role. Maybe they’re lazy or maybe they fear that volunteers don’t want to be told what to do – could be both. Regardless, this makes volunteering a nightmare. People hate not knowing what is expected of them and hate not knowing how to do their jobs. They have a terrible experience filled with anxiety and you lose a lot of credibility as a leader.
There are two simple things you can do to teach them the what. First is write out a clear and concise description of their job. In this job description you should explain the why, clarify the win, explain how to prepare, and teach them how to do. Second, is give them on the job training shadowing a seasoned and gifted mentor. Have your friendliest greeter train the new greeters, the most skillful soundman train the new soundmen, etc.
Once your people are equipped to do the job you’re finally ready to accomplish the vision.
Silver Bullet #6 – Continual Execution
Getting out of the starting blocks is not the same as winning the race. Once we have set our people off and running we need to know if they’re still running in the same direction and even if they’re still running at all. It is the failure to fire this sixth and final silver bullet is how once living churches get zombified in the first place.
One of the most important things to understand is that vision leaks. Slowly, over time, your team will forget the big why behind the what. When that happens things will inevitably drift and execution will begin to decay. To combat this you will need an actual system in place to renew vision.
With my volunteers I run a weekly VIP (Vision Information Prayer) meeting before every shift. This involves a 100 second vision talk, an information or training update, and a prayer to refocus on our spiritual motivations. All this takes less than 5 minutes, yet keeps morale, commitment, and performance high. These simple VIP meetings (an idea I shamelessly stole from Newspring Church) ensure that the compass remains pointing north.
While VIP meetings are great, they will not replace regular inspection. Yes, you actually have to take the time to observe your team in action. The football coach doesn’t stay in the locker-room, and neither can you. Keep in mind, the purpose of inspection isn’t discipline, but encouragement.
One of my own failures in ministry was creating an excellent follow-up system, and then leaving it in the hands of others without inspection. As the baton was passed from leader to leader the ultimate why was lost and the system morphed into a much more efficient, but much less effective replica of what I had intended. Even a relatively simple step by step procedure will decay without regular inspection.
An essential feature of the six silver bullets is that they are all sequential and each action is entirely dependent on the one before it. Inspection before training will be a disaster. Tactics before strategy will crash. And vision before mission will be a train wreck.
Understanding our mission (bullet #1) means that we know why we exist.
Creating a vision (bullet #2) means that we can see what this will look like.
Devising a strategy (bullet #3) means that we know what we need to do to make the vision a reality.
Developing our tactics (bullet #4) means that we’re clear on how to do what we need to do.
Implementing our training (bullet #5) means that our people can actually do what we want them to do.
And continual execution (bullet #6) ensures that we keep on track and don’t have to re-do the entire process all over again.
If you aim carefully and fire all six bullets at your zombification problem your church will be far more effective and far more fruitful than it has ever been before.