GCI Equipper

From Greg: Keys for renewal in our churches

Dear Pastors and Ministry Leaders:

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

I hope you like the new format for Equipper. It’s formatted to be read on a wide array of digital devices including computers, tablets and smart phones. This format allows greater flexibility to link to outside articles, embed videos and in other ways more effectively equip you with disciplemaking ministry resources and tools. We invite your feedback using the “leave a reply” feature at the bottom of the page.

Last month’s issue of Equipper focused on what renewal looks like within our very small congregations (we call them Fellowship Groups). This month we look at what renewal looks like within our larger congregations (Chartered Churches).

It’s not about us

Some time ago, I ran across the music video embedded below. Titled, “It’s All About Me,” it parodies self-focused worship in contrast with worship that is focused on God and his mission.

(On YouTube at http://youtu.be/8XHkMPA1334)

Though humorous, this video makes the serious and vitally important point that as Christians we can become so focused on personal preferences that we lose focus on who God is and what he is doing to fulfill his mission to the world. In that regard, it’s easy for congregations to become more inward (member) focused than outward (community) focused.

Though it’s not my intent to guilt anyone into action, I do want you to honestly evaluate your congregation and the ministries you lead, seeking the Lord’s direction in moving forward in this time of renewal.

In the February issue of Equipper, I wrote that churches on the road to renewal operate not from a viewpoint of scarcity, but from one of abundance. Doing so leads them to regain an invigorated love for Great Commission living that flows from a generous Great Commandment heart. These renewal churches recognize the need to turn their attention and energies toward loving God and neighbor, and making new followers (disciples) of Jesus as they follow the lead of the Spirit forward into God’s mission for the sake of the world.

Altering our DNA

Continuing our 2016 GCI-USA theme of Renewal, I ask you to evaluate your congregation asking this: is it more inward- than outward-focused? Renewal churches recognize that God calls them to an outward focus. In an article, “What Most Congregations Want from Their Pastor and Church — and Why It’s Not Biblical,” Pastor Brian Tubbs had this to say:

Most churches in America are inwardly focused with a DNA that demands care-giving, people-pleasing pastors. They are not passionate about the Great Commission. They are passionate about creating an environment in their church that serves their needs and their agenda. Changing this will require courage on the part of our pastors as well as humility, grace, selflessness, and sacrifice on the part of our churchgoing Christians. And it all starts with understanding the purpose of both the church and the pastor, according to God’s Word.

As Tubbs suggests, it’s easy to become inwardly focused and get stuck there. In GCI-USA Church Administration and Development (CAD), we see the need to remind our church leaders and members that the church’s primary mission is to participate with Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, to lead people to a relationship with God, to baptize those who accept Christ, and to teach them what Jesus taught. Doing so is the Great Commission.

Through the package of consulting, training and coaching services under the banner “Outside the Walls” (OTW, for short) the CAD team is working diligently to help willing churches (typically our larger ones) experience an alteration in their DNA—from an inward focus to Great Commission living that is outwardly focused. As an active participant in two OTW events (with a third to happen this month), I can testify that this change is occurring in several churches, and for that, I praise God! You can learn more about OTW by watching this short video update:

(On YouTube at http://youtu.be/HMf4ahtonbw)

Changing a church’s DNA begins with a change in thinking by its pastors (elders) and ministry leaders in accordance with what the apostle Paul wrote concerning the role a pastor-teacher in Ephesians 4:11-13. Here is what Pastor Tubbs wrote about those instructions:

The purpose of the pastor-teacher is plainly stated. It’s not to visit the sick, call on the shut-ins, perform weddings, or take care of the needs and wants of the flock per se (it is certainly okay when pastors do these things, but how much better is it when others are equipped for these opportunities?). According to Paul, who is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, pastors and teachers (…same office with dual roles) are “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:12, NKJV)

What if we as pastors and ministry leaders took Paul’s instruction to heart and focused our energies on training, equipping and releasing some members for internal care ministries, and then trained, equipped and released others for outwardly focused, disciple-making ministries?

Going one big “what if” further, what if our churches would, corporately, turn more of their energies and resources to the communities in which they meet for the purpose of bringing people to Jesus and his church? What if they examined their budgets and asked how much is inward-focused rather than outward-focused? What if they evaluated their ministries asking the same question? And what about their missions—are they connected to the community where the church meets, or elsewhere? While it’s fine to reach out half-way around the world, what about the primary responsibility to the folks next door? These are, of course, big (and challenging) questions, but they are ones that renewal churches continually ask.

Let me give you a real-life example of being inward- vs outward-focused. Some of our congregations hold summer picnics in locations nowhere near where they gather for worship. One pastor mentioned that he intentionally looked for a location where the congregation could “get away from others.” I understand the thought—I’ve been there and done that. But wouldn’t it be more productive (in line with our theology and missional focus) to have a picnic or church outing nearby our congregation’s meeting location? Wouldn’t it be more outward-focused if we invited people in the park to join us and enjoy a free lunch? Members would still have opportunity to fellowship, but they’d also be able to connect with new friends and be a light to those in the community surrounding the church’s place of meeting.

True to our primary purpose

While there will always be inward needs to be met, every church must stay true to its primary purpose of obedience to the Great Commission given by Jesus to his followers in Matthew 28:18-20. The way we allocate our resources (time, talent and treasure) should reflect our desire to make disciples who make disciples. To do that, God has placed us in various communities with the intent that we reach out to those communities, and in doing so share his love and life with those who do not yet know him. CAD places pastoral leaders in our congregations so that they will lead the way in equipping believers for their part in this gospel-shaped ministry. Their participation is fundamental to church renewal.

Walk With Me
Walk With Me by Greg Olsen (used with artist’s permission)

My prayer is that our pastors and ministry leaders will have the courage to equip and release the members in their congregations into ministries that care for the church, and then take the bold step of equipping and releasing other members to reach out to the surrounding community to connect with unchurched people who then can be assimilated into the disciple-making life of the church. I also pray that our church members will have the grace and humility to realize that the DNA of their congregation needs to change so that it becomes focused on reaching out to a world that desperately needs Jesus.

Lord Jesus, renew us! Amen.

Many blessings to you all,
Greg Williams, CAD director

P.S. Here are some points of application related to reaching out to the community outside your church walls:

  • Be persistent and intentional. It’s unlikely that a one-time outreach event or other program will produce a lot of fruit. It takes time to become known and to build trust, and thus credibility.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail. Some outreach events and programs simply will not work for your group, but you won’t know until you try.
  • Find ways to build a positive reputation in the community. Have members leave pens with your logo around the community. Give away water bottles at several community events. Have a “clean the community” day once every six weeks: meet at church for prayer and encouragement and go out. Let the community know ahead of time what you are doing and invite them to participate with you.
  • Talk to your regional pastor and other pastors about outreach ideas; share what works and what doesn’t.
  • Have seasonal events for children in the community. Easter is coming—how about hosting an Easter egg hunt in a nearby community park.
  • Consider starting a community garden to feed the neighborhood (thus raising dietary standards). Try other practical outreach activities like this to engage, build relationships, attract and thus lead to assimilation within the church community.
  • If you have a building 24-7, use it to host community events (especially ones that show that the congregation cares for the community).
  • Host a breakfast for community leaders, encouraging them and reminding them you are praying for them and are available to contact for prayer or emergency help.
  • Click here, for a list of 94 outreach ideas from Steve Sjogren. Most of these can be used whether or not you have 24/7 access to a church building.
  • If you don’t own your building, then rent one in a neutral location where signage identifying your congregation can be prominently displayed at all times. Don’t lose your identity by meeting in a non-GCI church building.
  • Determine your “target community” (or what we often refer to as a “focus group”) and then get actively involved in the life of that group. It’s vital to reach out to a cross-section of that community. If all the folks you’re reaching out to are homeless people, drug addicts, etc., then your church will begin to look more like a mission agency than a church, and sustainability will be difficult. It’s great to reach out to the disadvantaged, but you need to reach out to others who are not disadvantaged and thus are able to share in the ministry to the disadvantaged with you.
  • If your meeting time for worship services (or other meetings) is out of step with your target community, change it to align with their schedules and cultural expectations (in most places in the U.S. that means moving worship services from Saturday to Sunday).
  • Consider using “Grace Communion” in your congregation’s name. Not doing so limits the visibility of the denomination and thus your congregation in the world around us. As we go forward, newly chartered churches will be asked to name themselves “Grace Communion” followed by their city or town. Our denominational name speaks to our distinctive values of God’s extravagant grace experienced in loving community.

Ministry rhythms that lead to renewal

This article is from Heber Ticas, senior pastor at Comunión De Gracia, GCI’s Sun Valley, California, congregation. Heber also is the national coordinator for GCI-USA Church Multiplication Ministries.

Heber and Xochilt Ticas

As I write this, I’m enjoying 80 degree weather here in Southern California. We’ve been having summer weather in the middle of winter for two months—it seems entirely out of rhythm! Sweaters have given way to t-shirts, and beach day is a real possibility.

In our everyday lives, rhythms are natural occurrences, and it’s no different in ministry. In both venues, the rhythms fluctuate from time to time as our surroundings change. And in both venues, the Spirit is at work leading us into what I like to refer to as “missional rhythms.”

In our individual lives and congregations, if we keep our “eyes of faith” open, we’ll see the Holy Spirit at work drawing people into communion with the Father, Son and Spirit. Because that is true, as individuals and as churches, living life on mission ought to be part of our continuing “ministry rhythms.”

In thinking about ministry and mission we often ask the How? question rather than the Why? question. Why should we live out the Great Commission in our daily rhythms? The answer is that doing so is fundamental to our God-given identity. In Christ, and by the Spirit, we are a sent people. Jesus said “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21).

From the beginning, God has been sending his people. He sent Noah to build an ark, Abraham to Canaan, Moses to Egypt (then the Promised Land) to liberate Israel. And now God sends his church to participate in his mission to the world.

The American church today has largely lost its sense of being a sent people. Western values tend to emphasize individual comfort and consumerism. Sadly, those values have infiltrated the church and it has become an exclusive community where its rhythms revolve around those already part of the community. Our friends are Christians; our social gatherings revolve around church functions. Although much of our personal daily rhythms are lived outside the church community, living missionally is not part of our daily rhythms. The result is a disconnect between the mission of God and the rhythms of our daily lives.

Hear this: no church and no individual Christian can “outsource” their calling to be a sent people. As a church, we are called to love, worship and learn together, and then live together on mission. Our rhythms as a church body need to have an inside-out orientation. Mission can’t happen inside the walls of the church only—we must live “outside the walls,” on mission. Here are some of the inside-out ministry rhythms that the congregations I’ve pastored and planted have learned to embrace:

  • Gospel fluency: incorporating into our rhythms an understanding of who God is, who we are in Christ, and what he has done for us.
  • Listening: Jesus listened to the voice of the Father. In the same way, we need to listen to the Word (Holy Scripture) and the Spirit. We also need to listen to each other and to the cries of those seeking refuge in his grace.
  • Cultural engagement: We must live outside the walls of our church in order to be in tune with our immediate communities. This means engaging by seeking out and befriending (relationship building), and if need be, sitting at the well from time to time.
  • Missional spaces: Our ministry rhythms must open “spaces” in which the congregation can be missionally engaged.
  • Community: We must have multi-generational small groups where life is shared and the non-churched are welcomed into an inclusive, loving community.
  • Celebration: Our Sunday worship service must be inspiring—a celebration of our inclusion in the life of the Father, Son and Spirit. We must have Spirit-filled worship and preaching that brings hope and expectation, motivating the body to invite their non-churched friends and family members into our inclusive, joy-filled celebration.
  • Unity in the body: We must promote unity by celebrating the diversity within our congregation. This includes celebrating and honoring different ethnicities, races and generations as one in Christ.

As you know, CAD Director Greg Williams has declared 2016 the year of renewal in GCI-USA. Incorporating these missional rhythms into your congregation’s life will move you along the path to renewal. By shifting to more missional ministry rhythms, you will find a better inward-outward balance. Jesus is the Captain of this ship and he is all about sharing his life and mission with us, his church. Let’s embrace our identity and calling in Christ, and move into ministry rhythms that are aligned more fully with what our Lord is doing to fulfill the Father’s mission to the world.

Looking for resources to guide your congregation in a process of renewal? Here are two you may find helpful:

  • The book Fusion by Nelson Searcy—a helpful resource that addresses the topic of assimilating visitors into active participation in your congregation.
  • Reaching People from Building Church Leaders—a set of helpful articles on various topics: evangelism, hospitality, outreach, assimilation, etc.


Recommended discipleship resource

This article is from Calvin Simon who pastors New Creation Community Church, GCI’s congregation in Norfolk, Virginia.

Calvin and Erica Simon

As a pastor, I’m always on the lookout for resources to use in discipling people in the way of Jesus. Our congregation wanted a monthly discipleship class, so we started by studying the GCI booklet, The God Revealed in Jesus Christ. After completing that study, we were looking for something that would meet us in our everyday lives.

I had recently been working my way through Cathy Deddo’s book (with study guide), The Letter of James: Knowing the Father of Lights in the Midst of Our Darkness. I knew at once that it was what the congregation was looking for. So we purchased copies for everyone and our monthly discipleship class took off. People were showing up ready to answer the study questions and to ask questions about Cathy’s notes and commentary. Preparation to facilitate the study is easy—one just works through the material in advance. We’ve been using Cathy’s book now for six months, and I’ve seen people grow in their faith, in their desire to read God’s Word, and in their relationships.

james-coverCathy’s book is filled with challenging questions and thought-provoking statements. We’re not only learning about the book of James, but about a right way to study all Scripture. On the days we hold the class, attendance is always high. We don’t have a sermon that day, because the book is filled with the good news, and it meets people in their everyday situations.

We had a visitor attend with us the first time we held the class on James. Afterwards he asked how he could get one of the books for himself. He has returned several times since.

The excitement in the congregation is growing, as people begin to see how God desires to speak to us through his written Word with the Living Word, Jesus, at the center. So often we view Bible Study as boring, or as a chore. However, our experience has been that Bible study can be one of the greatest and most fun things we can do. Cathy teaches us to take time to listen to what God is saying to us in Scripture. If you’re looking for a resource to help members (and visitors) grow in their faith, I highly recommend Cathy’s book, The Letter of James.

Note: Cathy’s book can be previewed and purchased on her website at

Here’s what renewal looks like

This article is from Regional Pastor Rick Shallenberger. Rick works with pastors and congregations in the upper Midwest and also serves as a contributing editor for Equipper.

Rick and Cheryl Shallenberger
Rick and Cheryl Shallenberger

GCI has two chartered churches in Cincinnati, Ohio. Christ Community Church (CCC) on the east side is pastored by George Hart, and Christ Fellowship Church (CFC) on the west side is pastored by Dustin Lampe. By God’s grace, both churches are in the midst of renewal. Here’s what renewal is looking like in those two congregations.

Both CCC and CFC moved to new locations within the past three years. Previous attempts to get involved in their local communities hadn’t been successful and their respective teams spent a good bit of time in prayer asking God to lead them to where they could participate in what he was doing. CCC felt led to the community of Milford and CFC was led to a new location in the Western Hills area of Cincinnati.

George and Vicki Hart
George and Vicki Hart

God provided both pastors with “a man of peace” (Luke 10:5-9), helping them meet the community leaders and people who were gifted to help them start new ministries. For CCC, the man of peace turned out to be the superintendent of the school system. “I was telling the congregation about my prayers to meet community leaders,” said pastor George, “and after services, a man came up to me and said he knew the superintendent and would be happy to introduce us.”

That introduction opened several doors for pastor George and CCC, and brought several community leaders together to establish what they call, “Community United.” Pastor George chairs the meetings and said he is “overwhelmed and blown away by the opportunities God has opened up.” CCC is located in Clermont county Ohio—the fifth worst county in the nation for opiate overdose deaths per capita. “Community United” is dedicated to tackling this problem head on. One way is by working with youth leaders in the churches, schools, Girl and Boy Scouts, and in the community to resource them and encourage and affirm them that what they are doing is important and valued. CCC is helping sponsor a community event in April specifically directed toward youth workers.

Pastor George said it was clear to him and his leadership team that God was paving the way for their move to Milford. “We sensed this is where God wanted us, so our prayer was ‘Lord, what do you have in mind and how can we participate with you?’” One of the places they felt led to is an apartment complex near the church. “We felt it was a good place to start, and enabled us to be more focused” said Pastor George. “We had a Christmas party for the kids in the complex and 36 kids came, as well as several adults. We are excited to see what God has in store for the future.”

CCC is currently working on a new vision statement. “Our vision statement got us through the transition to our new location,” George said, “but it’s been clear we need to make it more outward focused.” Part of the renewal process for CCC was believing that God has a mission for the congregation and expecting God to make it clear. “We are willing to take risks,” said pastor George, “but when you believe God is leading you, risk isn’t the dominant concern. We have a growing expectation of what God is going to do.”

Pumpkin PatchPastor Dustin and his team at CFC have started a number of new missions and ministries as a result of their move to their new location. Last fall they sponsored a “pumpkin patch” for several weeks. Not only did they sell pumpkins for the fall season (as a fund raiser), they had several ways they used the patch to meet people in the community and thus make multiple connections. CFC also sponsored an “Outside the Walls” event the last weekend in October, and started an Awana club for children which meets during the week. Dustin and team have gone door-to-door in the immediate community to meet people and find out how they can best serve them. In the story below he shares the result of one of the door-to-door greetings.

How Much Does the Church Matter? 

by Dustin Lampe

In the typical church, we believe in a good and big God of love. We believe God can do all things, and all is settled with Christ. We look out on the world and see the pain many experience and we complain about the government and the culture. We call the world guilty and the church forgiven. We then stay in our collective cocoons and hope the world does something to fix the world. How much does the church really matter in this world?

Dustin and Rachel Lampe
Dustin and Rachel Lampe

At Christ Fellowship Church in Cincinnati, like many GCI congregations, we have come to believe that Christ loves the orphans, widows, and sinners and that we have a calling to be amongst them. Why? Because we are “them.” But in the church we have a special name over our brokenness and that is “beloved, forgiven child of God.” This glorious name has inspired us to walk with boldness, with unveiled faces sharing this treasure because of Christ’s extraordinary power at work in us!

So rather than tell of “great things,” I would rather share the story of one person impacted by Christ’s ministry through our church.

Four months ago, my friend Tyler and I were walking through our local neighborhood inviting those we met to our church’s Fall Festival, which would take place in two weeks. Part way through our journey we met a woman named Karyn. Karyn was a magnificent lady to speak to, in a fine house, in a peaceful neighborhood. Tyler and I spent about 15 minutes talking to her about life, faith and our church. We then prayed with her. As we parted ways, we all cried tears of unexplainable joy knowing that God had brought us together.

Karyn didn’t wait two weeks until our festival. She came and helped us set up and run the festival! She attended church every week and joined our women’s small group. But the story of Karyn is so much more than her “coming to church and getting involved.”

Karyn is now a part of my family. She is there for us and we are there for her. Karyn knows where we are, in town or out. We know where Karyn is. She is leaving on vacation this week, and she called the other day just to tell us that she was going to miss us while she’s gone! Karyn, my wife, my kids, our church, are now united in Christ with joy unspeakable.

This connection of our church, forgiven by Christ, brought us together with a woman who was waiting for something but didn’t know what. The resulting forgiveness was experienced, and this led to spiritual joy. The fruit we now experience in being in mission together is the miracle.

We have learned from this. Jesus Christ and his church are in this world and we are called to confidently go into it and share the love with which he first loved us. If the church will obey his call, it will not only matter, it will make all the difference in the world for every “Karyn” that we come into contact with!

Sermon summary: Forget being forgotten

Here is the summary of a sermon for Easter Sunday written by pastor Lance McKinnon (Revised Common Lectionary, year B)

Lance and Georgia McKinnon
Lance and Georgia McKinnon

1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (NRSV)

Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you–unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them–though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

Here the apostle Paul reminds us as “brothers and sisters” of the “good news” (gospel) that has been proclaimed. It’s the message Paul wants believers in Corinth to “hold firmly to.” Paul summarizes the key elements of that message—those things he considers to be “of first importance”: Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, which all were “in accordance with the scriptures.” Paul’s point is that when it comes to Christianity, Christ is above all else. Moreover, his birth, life, death and burial must not be separated or viewed in isolation from his resurrection, ascension and return. It’s all one complete work because Jesus is a complete, living Savior who brings wholeness to our fractured and fragmented world and lives.

My Redeemer Lives Liz Lemon Swindle
My Redeemer Lives by Liz Lemon Swindle (used with artist’s permission)

Paul goes on to speak of Jesus as the one who encounters us. This is what we see in the Gospel’s post-resurrection accounts. In one way, Easter is not fundamentally about the resurrection event, but about the risen (resurrected) Lord as a person. To make his point, Paul emphasizes the stories of Jesus’ encounter with Peter (Cephas), with the apostles as a group (the twelve), then with more than 500 brothers and sisters (disciples). Paul then mentions Jesus’ encounter with James and with all the apostles. Last, he mentions his own encounter with Christ (an apparent reference to the Damascus Road event). Paul lists himself last (in order and priority) because he knows he fought the Lord, trying to stop his kingdom by persecuting his church.

Paul knows it is only by grace that the Lord appeared to him at all. The reality of that grace should encourage us: the Lord will not leave anyone out of his encounter. When it comes to the risen Lord, we can forget ever being forgotten! In Jesus Christ, by the Spirit, the Father has re-membered us all. To God be the glory!

Paul understands that this grace of remembering is not without its effect in our ongoing lives. He says that, in his case, he “worked harder” than all the other apostles. He is not bragging here; not making a statement of comparison to look better. Rather he understands that grace had more work to do in him in making him an apostle.

We too can participate in the work of grace that the risen Christ, by the Spirit, is doing in our lives. Jesus didn’t rise from the tomb so we could be mere spectators of his now-glorified humanity. We were raised with him so that we may participate in that life with him. Indeed, Jesus is our life. To participate in some other “life” amounts to looking for “the living among the dead.”

Happy Easter!