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PODCAST 051: Ed Stetzer & Defining a Successful Church

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What makes a successful Digital Church? Church Online? Church overall? What is it? I'll tell you what it's not: our Sunday morning attendance numbers... yet this is where many of our analytics (and attention, for that matter) stop. A quote from Ed Stetzer years ago has always haunted this line of thought for me: "When you build your churches like theaters, don't be surprised when your parishioners act like show-goers."

I don't believe I'm overstating here. We, the Church, we know this is bad. We know the success story to an effective church in 2020 isn't solely found in the pews on Sunday morning... that being said, very few of us are doing anything about it? Why is that?

Well, why not ask Ed Stetzer? I almost don't know how to properly announce Ed here. Countless books, sermons, blogs, articles, interviews, conferences... the man is synonymous with Mission & Evangelism in the Church today. What better person to ask, "How did we get here?" Although, maybe the better question to ask is, "We're stuck, where should we go from here?"

Is this a Digital Church podcast? Maybe. Church Online? Probably. Really, this podcast episode has implications across your entire church as strategically we all need to acknowledge where we are as a church and how in 2020 we need to shift priorities in order to be a successful church. 


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ON THE SHOW

Guest: Ed Stetzer
Twitter // Facebook // Instagram // LinkedIn

Host: Jeff Reed
THECHURCH.DIGITAL
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Co-Host: Rey DeArmas
Christ Fellowship Miami Online
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SHOW NOTES

HELP ANOTHER CHURCH. LEAVE A REVIEW.

We know these conversations are out there are hard. Even the best of churches haven't figured out... If this podcast is helping you and your church work through what Church Online is, then help us impact other churches! Take a moment and leave us a brief review!
 
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Feedback on the podcast is vital as well. Leave comments on the podcast, or comment on this post! I'd love to know your thoughts and how we can serve your church better.
 
Love you all! Praying for your Churches and your Ministry Online.
 
Jeff Reed
THECHURCH.DIGITAL
 

TRANSCRIPT

Jeff Reed (00:00):
Alright everybody. Welcome to The Church Digital podcast powered by Stadia Church Planting. I still, I love saying that part. By the way, Stadia I think like this weekend is launching their 1000th church. That's right. They have literally planted a thousand churches here domestically, as well as, around the world and we are seeing that happen in real time. So if you're even thinking about planting a church, want to have a conversation about what a digital church looks like. You know, we here at Stadia, we want to know, check out stadiachurchplanting.org and on the digital side because we're literally writing this stuff as we're going. Hit me up here. My information will be in the show notes and let's get together. Alright, Episode 51 here of The Church Digital Podcast. This has been the most fun I've recorded of any podcast to date.

Jeff Reed (00:47):
We were laughing hysterically and it actually took a lot of editing to, to assemble this whole conversation together. It was so much fun and I didn't feel like letting you all listen to like 15 minutes of laugh track going through this podcast. Ed Stetzer is on the podcast. Now, Ed is is a man. I would call him a mentor. It was funny, I actually ripped him at one point on Twitter for him assuming the mentor role, but the man's been a mentor in my life and a huge inspiration behind what I'm doing here with The Church Digital. Now. He doesn't always agree on the, on the technology piece and the church online. And and so we dig into that even a little bit here in the podcast. But when it comes to discipleship, when it comes to multiplication, when it comes to understanding the culture of who we are here in the Western church, as in digging into the research that he's done through Lifeway and a number of different other resources that organizations that he's working with and influencing.

Jeff Reed (01:42):
I can't think of a better person to come on the podcast here and to really talk about where the church of today is and how we need to get from where we are to where we need to be, how we get unstuck. Because listen, we all look around, we all feel the tension. We all see the decline. We see what's coming. We can acknowledge that it's there. Nobody's fighting that, but how do we get unstuck? How do we get the led out? This, this is really the conversation that we had with Ed Stetzer. Now I can dig in here and we can talk about like, I mean I could spend an entire episode, an entire podcast episode talking about this man's resume, the the churches that he's spoken at, the books that he's written, the articles, the blogs, the conferences that he's been able to speak into and the influence he's had all across America, the American church, and even the international church today. I really just want to get out of the way at this point. And I'm bringing in Ed Stetzer, from The Billy Graham Center of Evangelism, from Moody Church and a number of other sources. I'm also bringing in Rey DeArmas, Digital Pastor at Christ Fellowship Miami and myself, Jeff with The Church Digital in a conversation that I am calling defining a successful church. Okay, everybody, here you go. I think the first message I ever produced for you when you were teaching over at Christ Fellowship, it's like 2011.

Ed Stetzer (03:05):
I was there for like six years as Teaching Pastor.

Jeff Reed (03:08):
And so it was a lot of fun. And I remember you dropped the line and this is a thing that I really want to kind of like park on a little bit here because the heart of church today I think, I think it's missing some things and I want to, whether we get to the online context and church online and the digital context of this, but really like the, the core of it is this and you said this line in a sermon and it stuck with me for for years. "When you build churches like theaters, don't be surprised when people act like show goers" and when you set it in a sermon on stage in front of thousand plus people at Christ Fellowship Miami, their Palmetto Bay campus, it literally like hit me like a ton of bricks over the head. I was just curious like what's the context? Where were you to kind of come up with that? It was funny, like I tried to Google that quote. I don't see it a lot like in Google hasn't found it. Stuff like not a lot of people are blogging or talking about it, but it's such a powerful quote. I'm just curious kind of like what's the story behind how you came up with that?

Ed Stetzer (04:10):
Well you know when you kind of look at and begin to ask questions about what's causing a consumer driven mentality in churches, which a lot of people bemoan and lament, you know, I got 50 books on a shelf right over there about you know, how bad it is cause we're a consumer driven church and but then you don't acknowledge that there are some things that have an unintended impact and that might create that consumer driven church.

Ed Stetzer (04:35):
And one of them is, again, when you build churches like theaters don't be surprised when people act like show goers because we were actually trained to be, I mean I go, I go to a show, go downtown Chicago, we're trained to be passive spectators. That's our job. That's why these wonderful people on stage are doing great things. And then we walk into a church, it's like a theater we kind of revert to, that's our job. Look at all these people in the front doing great things. And so we get to be the beneficiary of their gifts, the teaching gifts and the worship leaders gifts, maybe a video or something, but we're not using our gifts. We're passive spectators rather than active participants in the mission of God. Now, that's not the only thing in that message and by the way, bless that you'd remember a message from that long ago.

Ed Stetzer (05:18):
But also to talked about a little bit like the clergy laity distinction, right? So I'm clergy, I'm ordained as clergy. That elevates me to in people's minds, you know, then they're lay people. What do they do? They just lay around all the time. And so the language, you know, Reverend or Doctor or Pastor, the language teaches people that their role is sometimes more to pay, pray and stay out of the way. And the real ministry is done by the ordained clergy in the front of a stage and they see themselves, regular Christians see themselves, as sort of objects of the ministry they're ministered to rather than partners in the ministry that we minister together. I think it's a real huge thing. I spoke at Wheaton Chapel, just recently about this topic is that there is a sense that we've created in many, many places a consumer driven, customer service friendly church.

Ed Stetzer (06:14):
We do things well, if you like the music you'd like to preach and you like our children's ministry, like our student ministry, you'll stay. And then what you end up with is a whole lot of people not on a mission but who are kind of just, you know, go and floating down the lazy river with other Christians in a right temperature for them and their customer service needs are being met. And that's my concern and where that quote came from. And one of the ways that we unintentionally teach people to be passive spectators is the way we build our churches. Now to be fair, you know, come up to me and say, well Ed, you know, you talked about Christ Fellowship, you know, that's, that's a thousand seat plus auditorium. But you know, if you have 50 people, are you gonna put them all in circles?

Ed Stetzer (06:51):
Are you gonna are you, how are you, how are you going to not create rows? Right? That would theater-like rows and I don't really have the answer. I just wanted to complain about the current situation. So I'm like a good church member. I just bring you my problem. But what I would say is, I don't know that you can change it. I don't know. There's another way for a large church to meet. I mean, guess you could just eliminate large church, but I don't know. There's a place that they could meet that would cause them not to be passive spectators, but it doesn't mean that you can't be aware of it and work to overcome it. And you know, we talked about helping people, listen, we need you to move from those rows just sitting in circles. You know, we have to help people to move out of that passive spectator Christianity.

Jeff Reed (07:28):
But the passivity leads us to this place of consumerism, right? Where we're now, we're just tent polling, our spirituality to that one hour on Sunday where we're getting our fix week to week. Lifeway, I mean, I'm not sure if you were involved with Lifeway at the time, but even Lifeway is showing that more and more people are not engaging or talking about spiritual things even outside of the church. It's all centered around, okay, I'm a Christian for this one hour. I'm consuming. I'm exuding this a little bit with Christian friends, but outside when it comes to Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, it's not part of their lives.

Ed Stetzer (08:05):
I think that's pretty common where what happens is there's a Sunday practice doesn't become a daily process and this is, you know, Paul writes in, where is that, Philippians 2, that you obey not only my presence, but also my absence. So when Paul was there, they were walking like Jesus, and he commends them when I'm not there. You're walking like Jesus. And that's not true for a lot of people, but they've got to see that daily process of spiritual formation. Eugene Peterson called it a, you know, this long process, you know, and a long obedience in the same direction. And I think when we walk that way and we're blessed to walk that way, God honors it. We grow, but I think again, what happens is, is that people are generally born again. That's key to preface to all this sometimes just get stuck in their own moment where they're not on mission.

Ed Stetzer (08:58):
And that's part what we're talking about here. How do we get on mission? How do we help people to hear the words of Jesus as the Father has sent me? Even. So send I you to respond like Isaiah did. Here I am, Lord, send me. So there's a lot of passages that point to this. The challenges of the modern practices don't always look like the ancient passages.

Jeff Reed (09:15):
Acts talks a lot about being day to day with the believers. And so they were gathering daily. They were encouraging. Is that possible in context of today's Western culture church? I mean we're barely not even getting weekly at this point. When you look at, I had a church tell me the other week that even among their givers, they're high level givers, they're attending 0.8 times a month. So even people who are giving regularly to this particular church they can't even get once a month for them. Like, how did we get here? Is there a possibility and an option to turn the corner?

Ed Stetzer (09:54):
Well, that culture changed. So, and we're experiencing something that really nobody in history except the very rich have experience in the past. So the very rich that the Englishman, you know, may experience in a Downton Abbey moment where they, you know, the rich, the nobility sort of go off to their cottage up the mountain or something and people would go away for the weekend. And that's a stunning thing that rich people did that. So, you know, Jeff, when you were a kid back those many decades ago, many, many, many people didn't go away for the weekend. You and your parents in all likelihood did not go because the whole infrastructure wasn't there to support it. There wasn't a, you know, every corner on, every highway stop, there wasn't a courtyard or a, you know, a Holiday inn or, or whatever, a Hampton.

Ed Stetzer (10:46):
I mean, so think about how our Hilton think of all these names. So 50 years ago, none of those things, none of those things were available. Therefore the people didn't have the process to do it. Now, they have the process to do so when they're taking advantage of it. So people go away for the weekend pretty regularly. It's kind of a normal thing. Yeah. So, so how then do we respond to that? Well, I think one of the ways responding is, for example, we're actually, and it's a strange thing, but we're actually now, taking like a children's ministry. And we say before we'd say, Hey, what'd you teach children's ministry now we're like, Hey, would you and your friend rotate in the children's ministry? So there's two people to do one person's role. So I think we do want to sort of work towards where there's a sense that people value this.

Ed Stetzer (11:31):
I wish that more people not only valued it so much that they that they went to church when they were in town, but they actually planned their time out of town around the valuable connection that the local church is there as well. So, I mean, I think there's just, we have to call people to a different way of living. And this is very counter-cultural because right now we live in a time when everybody does what is autonomously helpful to, you know, individually kind of driven by what they want to do. And I think the call of God is something more.

Rey DeArmas (12:01):
Yeah. And are these idols to be preached against? Like, is this something that we need to be directly addressing from the pulpit and just kind of engaging with people and saying, Hey, listen, I faced the same challenges like as a minister of the gospel. Like, but this is what scripture says. This is where there is value in the coming together and community.

Ed Stetzer (12:19):
You know, I'm struggling with the answer. I mean, it's a great question. I would say that people getting away for the weekend is not necessarily idolatrous, but I would say that if you're driven by leisure to the place where you're not obeying the scripture, that that's problematic. And the call of God is something different and better than that. So yeah, I think there are adulterous parts to it. I would just be careful, you know, to not call out the fact that you're going to see your parents for the weekend is adulterous. But what I can certainly say that this leisure society that distances you from the people of God that you should be in relationship with. Yes. I think there's idols that need to be preached about, called down and addressed in my own heart too.

Rey DeArmas (13:05):
Yeah. Because there's something to comparison culture that we're living in the midst of where not only are we seeing this on a regular basis from some of our friends, but we're then we're inundated with it on a regular basis. When I look at my phone, so now I've got a social feed of nothing but people who seem to live on vacation convincing me, that I too need to live on vacation, that I am truly living life unless I'm living on vacation. And then of course, then there's advertisements and everything else that come along with it to convince me of the same thing.

Ed Stetzer (13:29):
Yeah. And there is a multibillion dollar industry that's working to get you to engage in these things. It only works if we're going to these places. And so when we don't, then ultimately there's a failure of the social economic model. So, yeah. So I would say one of the ways the church should be counter-cultural today is by specifically and intentionally helping and encouraging people towards greater biblical community where they're in each other's lives. And in doing so, life on life, you know, iron sharpens iron. That again, it's a cliche almost. They're living life together and there's priorities that are there. I noticed that one time I was, there was this church in, we were in, we were in different place where we live now and there was a church, I guess I won't say a name, doesn't matter, but there was a couple in the church that had were thinking about moving and I just had a conversation with him. He says, well, but we made an 18 month commitment to our small group to journey in life together. So we're not going to move until an 18 month commitment has done. And I'm like, that's not generally what I hear. I mean people like whatever, I'm going to take a new job. But they made a commitment to covenant and they wanted to stick to it. So I think that that kind of approach can be helpful and I think we need more of it, and less of that consumer driven Christianity.

Rey DeArmas (14:45):
it's funny because even as you say that both Jeff and I are kind of in Oz as we hear that, that's rare. Even within the church that's just counter-cultural to our environments outside of the church. If I were to go up at the pulpit and deliver that message, a lot of people would feel convicted and say, wow, I've never known such a strong commitment to something like that. That's not my wife. Or that's not my children.

Ed Stetzer (15:07):
Yeah, no, I agree. And, and, and I think that's not dissimilar to maybe what that first century church looked like. They love each other this much. You know, I'm also doing research now on the Jesus people movement and man, people were very much like that in the Jesus people movement. And it seems that God uses that kind of time when people are in deep, deep relationship to really be at work in special and unique ways. And I love that.

Rey DeArmas (15:31):
How do you engage in that kind of vulnerability and even commitment when churches, even, we try to encourage small groups to break up and to start new groups and this kind of thing for the sake of getting more and more people connected?

Ed Stetzer (15:45):
Yeah. That and that's a tricky thing because we're sort of, most of us have open small groups where we want to multiply them. And, and so, you know, what this church does is they do these 18 month commitments, people come in and kind of go out. And so I would say, you're gonna have to say to people to make that commitment that we want to be in some sort of biblical community, maybe with people, the same people, but new people may be coming in and being part of that journey. And, but the more you build towards that, the more that you, that particular, that multiplying idea of small groups, which I love. The more you build towards that, the, sometimes you're working against the strength of that biblical community. So that sometimes leads people to well maybe I need a third place.

Ed Stetzer (16:27):
You know, I've got church worship Sunday, a weekend worship and then I've got, you know, multiplying small groups and then we have kind of some sorts of community. I think you can do it in multiplying small groups because you know, most groups that multiply, there's still a core of three or four families that may, multiply, you know, singles, fam, families, you know, blended families, older couples, whatever. So they become the group that's in deep community and then they multiply ultimately from there.

Jeff Reed (16:54):
At the heart of multiplication, somebody catching a vision that's larger maybe than what they realize. On top of that, it's maybe even larger than what the churches, I just was having a conversation, before we got on this podcast. I was talking to an online pastor where their church has developed a number of micro locations, smaller locations around, but essentially where they've started to reach into is juvenile detention centers. And so they are, because of the passion of a couple individuals with their church to reach out and to juvenile detention centers. This church now has five of these micro locations where they are seeing, I think he said two to 300 juveniles, you know, teenagers 10 to 18 getting baptized over a couple of years as a result of the churches ministry in this area. The church didn't go in saying, Hey, I want to create juvenile detention centers. It was, there were a couple of people who are passionate about it and work through the church to allow it to happen. What's the role of the church to create, and we talk about multiplication, we talk about non-consumers, we talk about being on mission. Like these are all phrases that we've said. What's the church's role in empowering that to happen. How do we get people to understand personal mission and how the church can support it, influence it and benefit from it?

Ed Stetzer (18:17):
Great question. Cause I think that, you know, when we talk about people finding their mission, the verse that comes to mind is that a Ephesians passage, you know, God has given apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers to equip God's people. So the role, most people listening or watching are in the category of pastor-teacher. The role of that church leader and staff I think is primarily driven by the Ephesians passage. Matter of fact, if you were on my team, Jeff, I guess we've served together, you weren't necessarily my team. I would actually, not evaluate you annually on your guys. I would evaluate you daily, but I would not have evaluate you annually. I mean when I evaluated you annually, it would be on who have you equipped to, you know, when we work together at Christ Fellowship, you know, who have you raised up that's now part of the media ministry or something else.

Ed Stetzer (19:04):
So with a few exceptions and your, your job can be very technical. So that could be an exception. But for almost all staff roles in a church, their primary evaluation would be built around how have you raised up others for roles and tasks in the life of the local church? And if the answer is I haven't, unless there's, you know like there might be some specific things you might be are our trauma counselor and that's not something we're going to pass on to just everybody. So then, your question is how, and I think ultimately it's not really rocket science. There is, there are processes. I mean we can, you know, Rick Warren's baseball diamond, right? So how do we get to people with a 401 was discovering my mission. And so I think that involves helping them know their gifting, their wiring.

Ed Stetzer (19:50):
There may be past life experiences, all that point to what can and should we do with the gifts God has given us as each one has received a special gift. First Peter 4:10. Then last part of your question is, I mean that doesn't always benefit the church local, it benefits the church global or church universal. So I often say that your gifts can lead you to minister in your church, through your church or beyond your church. So in your churches, you're teaching small groups, you're working with the children, you're working in the media ministry, whatever else it may be that's in. Through your churches and your church has a partnership with this, you know, orphanage ministry or maybe partner with the good folks that you and I do work with Wellspring, you know, maybe their counseling Alliance. And so you're partnering through your church to church related thing.

Ed Stetzer (20:38):
And sometimes it's just beyond your church where, not in a sense that you've moved beyond, you're better than your church, but your church isn't involved in this, but you have a passion for orphan care through and around this particular theme and this particular place in your church. You know, and it's not a bad thing that your church isn't doing every ministry that's out there, but you're using your gifts. So in, through or beyond our key things, all of which glorify the Lord a hundred the Lord. And when you're beyond, you still obviously want to be connected through your local church under its care and love. And, but in, through, and beyond our ways, I think those gifts are used.

Jeff Reed (21:08):
You know what's funny is we started this conversation talking about the man on stage, he's speaking, exuding his spiritual gift to the people in the room. And that's how today I would suggest that the average church deems whether it's successful or not. How many, you know, we talk about butts in seats and nickels and noses, we use that phrasing a lot but, what you're just talking about isn't like the butts in the seats number, but how we're motivating those people to understand the personal mission and getting out whether it benefits the church directly or indirectly the big C church.

Ed Stetzer (21:41):
Yeah. So, and it's, it's, it's tricky because you don't want to fall back on cliches, but if you're not measuring your seating capacity, you are measuring your sending capacity. And so I think that that's not just a cliche, that's a really essential part of understanding the mission and the calling that God has on each and every person.

Jeff Reed (22:02):
So I heard you speak last year, 2019 exponential. I was in the room and like.

Ed Stetzer (22:09):
Are you going to go back to all of my past speaking engagements and say, this was wrong.

Jeff Reed (22:12):
Ed Stetzer has been hugely influential in my life. I love the fact that I can have this conversation with you.

Ed Stetzer (22:21):
Wow. That's so moving to me. I appreciate it. I love you too.

Jeff Reed (22:23):
I'm disappointed you're not going to be at 2020. I just was looking at the guest list last night, figuring out what's going on and you're not going to be there. Life goes on. So I saw you speak at exponential 2019. I was way up at the upper balcony of First Baptist Orlando and you basically, you said this phrase, you were like, I spoke 2018 here at conference, Exponential Conference. I'm speaking again 12 months later, 2019. What's changed? What has changed between 2018 to 2019? 2018 I said I had to do what we had to do to this. The church has to change. 2019 I'm here again and I'm asking a question, did it actually change or, or are we, are where we are? Do you, do you remember saying that? Like, am I, I don't want to take you out of context? Does that sound like you?

Ed Stetzer (23:14):
I basically kind of said we were gonna. Yeah, no, I think one of the things that we talked about was, you know, everyone's like talking about let's make a movement. Let's do things differently. Let's change the world. And then I came back the next year and said, we're saying the same thing. And it's like, you know, Francis Chan's given the same message and he's like, I just need more. And there's Francis and doing that, and Dave Ferguson's, you know, telling us we got to multiply. And what I would say is, I mean, they're all, I mean, I don't disagree with any of it and, but there is a certain sense that I think that, maybe it's just the speakers of these events, but I'm growing frustrated in calling for this change that would lead to a movement that everyone seems to.

Ed Stetzer (23:50):
Amen. But then we go back home to our churches and kind of revert to the same patterns and you know, we can't revert to the same patterns. We've got to engage all God's people in mission. We've got to see multiplication become the norm, not the exception. So, and I, and you know, Dave and Francis friends, all good. Just pick those two cause I have a good Francis Chan imitation, but now I'm sure people got a really good Ed Stetzer imitation. But, so I wasn't, you know, mad or angry. I'm just saying we can't keep having a cheerleader meeting every year. And I'm for exponential, right? I love what they're doing, but we can't give him a cheerleader meeting every year and not move the ball down the field. That's a sports metaphor, by the way. I don't use those a lot, but we've got to move the ball down the field.

Ed Stetzer (24:30):
Now to be fair. And 2019 there was some data released that actually said we have moved the ball down the field, some in multiplication, but it's, you know, it's still not, it's not the kind of movement we want to see and I'm just desperate for a movement of God that's going to transform our communities for the gospel ultimately around the world.

Jeff Reed (24:48):
Yeah. So like the followup to the question and, and I love expo as well and that don't totally love it. I was speaking okay, awesome. Everybody group hug. Yeah. How do we get to led out. Like some efforts, I feel like we're stuck. We're actually seeing it declining in some areas and you've got some stats that say maybe we're moving there. Maybe that's the catalyst to go. But like church-wide, movement-wide, I think we're, big C church, we're not making the changes we should or at least it doesn't feel that way.

Ed Stetzer (25:18):
Yeah. I would say there are some, there are some exemplars and outliers and we would say we're seeing that here. But yeah, I think, I think what you said, it's fair to say, I mean there is a huge cultural inertia towards a lower commitment in church and life. There's a huge tendency that people have to that. And what happens is when new people come to your church, they end up becoming like most people come to your church. So if you know 80% your church is not engaged and involved and 20% is doing 80% of the work, you've all heard that, that principle before. What's the chance that a new person is going to be engaged at all, probably about 20% because they tend to shape and follow you shaped and followed by the norm. So I think if pastors would make the hard decisions and maybe even the beginning church planners would make the hard decision to not build a customer service, consumer driven ministry.

Ed Stetzer (26:10):
And again, I don't think most pastors are getting up in the morning saying, man, if I can just be a consumer driven ministry. But they are saying what can we do to better reach people? And as they say that they reach people and most people are Christians who are reached and they come to our church cause we maybe you ask the question, what can we do better to reach people so our churches better musically or better organizationally. And so we attract people who are customers and consumers of the kind of worship we like and the kind of ministries we provide. And then we're like shocked, pearl clutching shocked that the church that we grew actually has more customers than it does co laborers in the gospel. So I would say I'm not against growth, no against big churches. I'm for all that. What I would say is we need to just make sure we don't end up with a room full of, kind of knowledgeable consumers of the religious goods and services that are distributed and the way that they want the demand or else they're going to go from our Walmart to somebody else's Target down the street.

Rey DeArmas (27:05):
Right. Is there a need Ed? Cause my father and I have been lamenting this as we've kind of seen the rise of the small groups and the need for small groups. But is there a need for Sunday school to kind of make a re-emergence to help educate Christians as to how to evangelize, how to help, you know, bring somebody else up alongside them. Because there's a lot of that that I grew up in a Sunday school environment. Jeff did, you may have as well where that was just kind of the norm in terms of understanding some of those things. And now small groups unintentionally for the sake of community. But for the sake of, Hey look, we're going to give you a DVD or we're going to give you right now media, you hit play, you ask a few questions and then you kind of role, does it do the job of challenging people or is there a place where we need just more education on this front?

Ed Stetzer (27:48):
Hmm, that's a good question. If I had my preference, yes. I would love to see another time devoted to deeper study the word of God. Where celebration, worship, you know, care and community and small groups and some sort of input of content that helps me be grounded in the word of God, like a Sunday school or something like that. But the reality is is most churches have moved away from that and people. Churches move away from that because people have moved away from that. It's not, you know, one is related to the other. And so I would say if that's the case, it's not that they're asking us, it's not that we get to choose or anything like that. It's ultimately the end of the day, we're called to develop the people and there are certain biblical teachings and commands we want to follow to do that.

Ed Stetzer (28:37):
And one of them is they might learn the word of God, however not. However, in addition, there are structures and within which we work and cultures within which we work. So, I'm a believer that you need a third time. And so for me it might be, you know, Bible study on Saturday morning it might be something else to go deeper because I think it's cost us a lot, maybe more than we expected. It's cost us a lot to move away from things like a Sunday school model, which again, it's easy to mock. Because you know, some of it was a little goofy, but I mean there are millions upon millions of by most people. I didn't grow up in church like you did, but, and I'm so thankful you did but so many millions of people have been just transformed by the ongoing engagement, the word of God. So I want a third time. I do, I want a third time beyond church and small group and I think that's key. Is it Sunday morning? I don't know if that will work. I'm for it. I'm for anything where God's people will get more, more engaged in God's word.

Rey DeArmas (29:33):
We've got so much that's that we've got so much content. We're almost inundated with content nowadays in terms of Christian content.

Ed Stetzer (29:39):
Okay. I actually think I'm a little place than you are Rey. And, and that's okay cause we love each other. We're friends. I think that the community is going to be mainly through the care groups, to the cell groups, to the home groups, through the house groups. So I'm talking about celebrative worship gathered together, talking about small groups meeting at homes, and then I'm talking about what you call like Sunday school, which is more content driven. So I wouldn't have small groups in a church and an alternative small group expression in Sunday school. I think Sunday schools could be small groups, but then they're also going to deal with pastoral care and prayer things. That's, sorry I'm looking, I'm looking for one place for deeper discipleship, deeper Bible study as well. So I think what you're saying certainly could be true that the third place could be community as well.

Ed Stetzer (30:21):
I tend to think that most of the community focus happens in what could be a two hour gathering in a home where I'm only gonna get people for an hour on Sunday before church. And so I'd want that to be more, maybe even a large group or teaching, you know, large groups, Bible study, that kind of stuff. So maybe we make it a little different place, but that's certainly okay.

Jeff Reed (30:37):
I want to hone in a little bit because you said the word discipleship and that means a hundred different things to a hundred different people. So just paint for me cause I'm curious and we talk a lot about discipleship in the, in the podcasts. So like what, when you say discipleship and the discipleship group contextually, what does that look like? What are you literally describing?

Ed Stetzer (30:57):
Okay. Just so I'm not talking about small group, which I think, I think every church should have a robust community of small groups that are connected together, key for the church, pastoral care, Bible study, prayer for one another and more. And you know, that's kind of become the norm. You know, most churches sort of have that. What I'm talking about is I think there needs to be a third time, a third place where, and let me just say too that discipleship is taking place in the worship service. Discipleship is taking place in the small groups. Rey raised rightful concern for a greater sense of community that's gonna take place in my strange view, that's going to take place with the small group community. But then, part of the discipleship, so I wouldn't use that term. These are not like the discipleship classes. I think that's actually historically what some denominations did. There was Sunday school and then there was the discipleship program, which was some of the time.

Ed Stetzer (31:46):
So let's jettison the structural ideas for the conversation. I'm not saying jettison them if they're working, but jettison those kind of preconceived notions. So I'm talking about a place for celebration, that's your weekend worship service. Care, community, that's your small group life throughout the church. And content someplace where you engage the word of God more deeply, maybe through biblical teaching, maybe through a discipleship course that you're taking. That is a deeper experience than biblically. And the small groups are a deeper experience relationally. And then the celebration is just kind of the gathered, you know, process of the church together. And people might have different views. And this is not one, I don't think there's like second opinions, chapter four, verse 11 says you should do this, but I do think that to me, the thing that I'm missing in a lot of churches is the thing that Rey brought up is where is that deeper place for community?

Ed Stetzer (32:47):
And what happens, I think is people who go to a church, it's very celebrative under its worship service simultaneously that has good small groups that are community people in that church officers. I say, well, where do I get the Bible deeper? And then what happens is they come to the Pastor and say I just like some deeper teaching and then the pastor sees as a threat and you know, and then it's like, well, I'm just, you know, we want to reach everybody. No, give people a third place where they can take it deeper and know and love the Lord and grow in knowledge of his word. And I wouldn't do that as a replacement. I would say that, as long as you're in worship and as long as your in community and we'd love to have you go with a deeper experience of the word of God.

Jeff Reed (33:20):
Yeah, quite literally. I'm living that exact conversation with the church that I'm, I'm working with down here where they've got, they've got people that are, the services are very evangelical minded in the pastors leading that way. Small groups is reaching a type of people, but then there's that next level person that's trying to figure out how to be challenged. They haven't understood the call of personal mission in their life. They haven't understood at this point we're on spiritual food and we should be feeding ourselves. They're not looking for that, that challenging opponent. They've not been reached. They've just really been kind of trained within that community but not grown to the place of being a multiplier. And so we've been trying to work through and figure out like, how do we, how do we grow people? How do we train people? How do we help people understand the multiplication process that at this point, like we need to move, we need to feed you at that upper level, but to the point where now you can feed yourself and then turn around as the Bible calls us to and start feeding others. So really that's, that's the, that's the call of, of personal mission in that, by the way, and getting kind of Ed to reaffirm you. I've had several conversations and we're even considering bringing it back, a Wednesday night thing and bring it.

Ed Stetzer (34:39):
And that would, that would do that. And I, we do see some churches, really surprising churches saying we need a third time and it might go deeper with our kids as well. And so, I, so I'd like that. What I would say is I don't want to counter, you know, I think what happened was, you know, the, the churches, you know, Wesleyan, somebody said God, Baptist, whatever. I mean, they had Sunday school, Sunday morning, something Sunday night, and they usually have, I'll say before Sunday night, they had Wednesday night, they had like deacons or elders meeting on Tuesday and a women's fellowship meeting on Thursday and a men's breakfast on Saturday. And it just, it was the all consuming rally. You couldn't meet your, you couldn't even know your unchurch neighbors. You're busy driving past them to church. So I think the pendulum swung, I'd like to see it come back a little bit more.

Ed Stetzer (35:23):
And yeah, so I'm kind of an advocate for that third option. I think that sort of option it might am I am I, you know, I'm a pastor, so it's all Cs, celebration, care, content. Yeah. I want that deeper biblical content. I don't think the place for that is completely Sunday morning. I, you know, I generally teach through books of the Bible and so you're getting content there. All of these places have content, but this is the one where it's you, maybe you're memorizing scripture. You know, my Donna, my wife just texted me, she's off to her precept Bible study group. Cause that's, I mean the women right now in our church are exercising that as kind of that third place for content. Now I, preached there, so should I be like, well Donna, didn't you get enough content from your husband on Sunday morning when the answer she would say is that's the most amazing content ever.

Ed Stetzer (36:09):
However, a lesser content have you received can be received on whatever day this we're recording this is on. So yeah. So I do think that and I like the idea. And so like one of the reasons the gospel project, you know, we've seen it go from, you know, five years, we always started, it went from zero users to 1.7 million weekly users of a gospel project resource in their hand on a Sunday is because it's become a third place for some people. Like people use small groups on, on Wednesday and it's there. We're putting the cookies a little higher on the shelf. Let's go a little deeper into the Bible. And I think that has good, it produces good strong believers.

Rey DeArmas (36:45):
What do you think of structures that churches would leverage for that third place that are outside almost para-church? Like I'm thinking of BSF Bible study fellowship that give people that deeper access to content but at the same time don't cost the church more resources.

Ed Stetzer (36:58):
Yeah, that's a good question. I think actually I said Donna was doing precept maybe Bible study fellowship. I should know more, shouldn't I? I just know she loves Jesus. She goes to a Bible study today but I don't, I don't have a difficulty with being outside of the church. I think that most churches may be too small to be able to sustain that kind of thing. But what happens is like, you know, sometimes it requires, you know, BSF is men and women, right? BCF is men and women. I think.

Rey DeArmas (37:25):
There's a men's section, there's a women's center and they do their Bible study separately.

Ed Stetzer (37:28):
Okay, how about that. So what I would say is, I think it would be good if churches also saw the value for that content. But I'm for any place where people are studying the Bible in an Orthodox way, more rather than less. So I think that's great.

Jeff Reed (37:47):
I sat with you once in Pastor Rick's office at Christ Fellowship Miami, we were casually talking about and you use the, use the phrase we talked about the, it's Romans or Hebrews. Forgive me, I'm blanking on it. But the don't abandon the gathering together.

Ed Stetzer (38:01):
Hebrews 10 verse 25.

Jeff Reed (38:02):
Thank you. I appreciate that. I thought it was Hebrews.

Ed Stetzer (38:06):
Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together as is the habit of some. But then talking about all the more, you know, see the day approaching. So important passage that says to people that gathered worship matters.

Jeff Reed (38:16):
Right? And so in, in context as online pastor, at the time we were having the conversation and you said the phrase and, it stuck with me. And that doesn't include avatars. And so what I would love to hear, cause I know you're not, and you've been public about this with some of your writing, in conversations with me and I'm an online pastor, digital guy, I live in that world. You perceive challenges and issues in context of what, of a church online, a digital church, things like this. And I respect you respect that entirely. But I would love just being a guy who sees ministry happening in those areas. What are some of the challenges that you're seeing? What are some of the issues when you look at the digital scope, when you look at church online, I see an opportunity to connect with somebody, seven days a week actually that leans closer to a biblical model of church. You see some things that's at a different viewpoint. And I would love to you maybe to speak to our audience, our audience has leadership that sees the digital world like you. So how can we, what are the issues we need to speak?

Ed Stetzer (39:23):
So wrongly sees it like me so wrongly and cause I know, I think I even remember that there in that conversation there was actually some push back and forth with you and me and I think that's good. So, so let me say first you want to talk about the concerns, but I want to say first let me talk about the areas that I want to affirm. I think that that online church is a great opportunity for people to engage in community and can really be a tool to use what you talked about, that greater sense of community day by day, cause far people probably people are engaging in Facebook and if you have a robust community there or you know, sometimes even an internal church community like know Church Community Builder or maybe there's resources you particularly recommend where you've got, you know, chat rooms and online conversation.

Ed Stetzer (40:12):
And yeah. So I, I actually think that in 2020, if you have the resources to do so, you'd be pretty like irresponsible not to engage in a larger churches and have more resources in this, in a robust online engagement that that really creates community that can be seven day a week. So, so I don't want the, I think my concerns would be when it does encourage people to not be in church. Now what we found is by large is it actually doesn't do that. So there are as a whole, there are some people who does do too and I'm sure, and there's some people who can never go to church. I mean, so I know we'll get notes from someone who's homebound or whatever it may be and praise God for that. So one concern I would have is that person who, sort of is moving away from community and sees online church as a replacement of that.

Ed Stetzer (41:08):
And I don't think that electrons and avatars should replace feet and faces as the primary way that people interact with one another. And let me just say that we are now 10 years into online church and I don't think it has. So one of the things you, when you were running our online church kind of world, you did encourage people to come to be a part of the community. Now again, are there places and spaces where that's not possible? Yes. Here's the deal. We may be depending on when you release this podcast, we may be in the middle of a global pandemic. My daughter was one of the four people in Tennessee. They were at a youth camp in Georgia where some kid from Florida had swine flu. So they all came back from the youth camp with this flood of swine flu, including my daughter and the church that had the camp called Long Hollow.

Ed Stetzer (42:00):
You have friends who are on staff there now but, we shut down church. So we said, Nope, do not come. You guys, we've got to stop the spread. And it didn't work, ironically and everyone and you know, would eventually get swine flu, but it's mortality rate greatly was less than the first reports, which is good. But so we're, we may be the place where the only way we're having this kind of community is online church. So again, so many positive things that, but the same time, part of my challenges, I live in a world where I go to a conference and everybody is just a hundred percent in favor of every single new idea. And it's just, this is the great, you know, I write in outreach magazine and outreach magazine is a wonderful magazine. You should get it subscribed to it, but everything's a great new idea in outreach magazine and everything's a great new idea at exponential and everything's great.

Ed Stetzer (42:47):
What I would say is I'm not sitting around saying, wow, let me tell you, I'm up on the balcony of the Muppets and I got some thoughts I want to say. But what I do want people to hear is there are unintended side effects and if online church moves people out of community, then it's not helping. It's actually hurting. Do we have a lot of evidence that has done that? No. Would I, for example, a mutual friend of ours did the first online baptism and what I encourage widespread online baptisms. No, I want people to get together in their community or you could say if I were in your shoes I would say that, you know, they, the people literally watched the baptism. The first online baptism was I believe in Pensacola and it broadcasts from South Florida. it was one person at home, but they broadcast it in front of the church. So it is certainly the public profession, but I just want people to the degree they can to work against sometimes the trends and to say we want personal community as much as we can have it. And then online church becomes a tool that even enhances that and you know, provides for times we can't be together and more. So how far the divide, how far apart are we, Jeff Reed?

Jeff Reed (43:59):
I would look at, I would look at online community. I would look at church online. I would say that if an attender is only exhibiting their Christian traits, if they're only exuding the fruits of the spirit in the virtual relationship they have and that is not getting into the physical world, then they're consumer, they are the same type of person that's sitting that one hour on Sunday in the building and not living on personal mission for Christ throughout the week and so that that's, that's the philosophy and we talk a lot about it in church online circles about the online to offline where the gospel that we learned in the online world virtually affects our offline, our physical world relationships. And so the challenge of church online is not to broadcast the services and be a replacement for a physical church.

Jeff Reed (44:56):
I would suggest that the challenge really of church online is to distribute discipleship and empower people to be the church where they are physically and to start to exude some of those things. In a physical realm. The problem is is that the vision of what church online can be is lost at the same level. And forgive me for overstating, but where the average church today doesn't understand a lot of the things that we talked about. They don't understand your three Cs. They don't understand multiplication. What they understand is we've got to get as many people in here on Sunday because we're defining the success of our church off the butts in the seats and the nickels and the noses and not off of Ed. It's, one of my favorite things you've said today, this idea of a successfulness of a church is its ability to have people multiplied themselves.

Jeff Reed (45:49):
And so that actually is the exact same line that I would look at with church online. The problem is, is that the average church in America doesn't have that vision much less for church online. They don't even have it for themselves. And so there's an opportunity, you know, the more that I talk about church online, the more that I just end up talking about church because the culture that's being propagated out of the church, what church online is just a mirror of it. It's a force magnifier, towards that. And so we have an opportunity, I think to change culture that only is going to help the church online, but it's gonna help the physical church as well.

Ed Stetzer (46:27):
I don't think there's a lot of daylight between us. cause I, what I would say is if I, if I were to be having a conversation with Joe Church member or you know, Joe, pastor, whatever, what I would say is what Jeff Reed talking about. You need all in, all on, all over your church because that's where people are. And that's the means of communication they're needing. I mean, we used to have telephone prayer chains. I mean, I don't know how old you have to be to know Rey. Do you remember telephone prayer trains?

Rey DeArmas (46:55):
Totally do.

Ed Stetzer (46:56):
I don't know how old you got to be to remember that. So, and imagine, you know how bad it is to cause you call somebody, it's like, it's literally like that bad game of telephone where you call somebody on my time, it's done, you know, so and so's has grown a third arm and it's the craziest thing.

Rey DeArmas (47:11):
Everyone has cancer.

Ed Stetzer (47:12):
Exactly. Exactly. So, so I think we're so, so count Ed Stetzer among the people who say what Jeff Reed's talking about is, right important. And and, and, and as you describe it, they're just fits very similar, right? So I'm far more pro but everything, I'd like to acknowledge that the breathless embrace of every new idea doesn't always think through what could be the negative consequences of it. And I think I started saying that during the seeker movement in the, in the 90s. And you know, I guess it gave me a reputation of just saying, Hey, let's think about this cause again, but I'm pro, in the mid nineties and I'm wearing a Hawaiian shirt. You know, I'm walking around, I want to be Rick Warren jr. and so I'm all in, but I'm like, Hey, there are some consequences. I might not. I live in Erie, Pennsylvania planting a church maybe in Hawaiian shirt isn't the answer to gospel work in Erie, Pennsylvania. But you know, I think we have to ask those questions. So let's have concerns, but let's also seize the opportunity that online online community provides for us.

Rey DeArmas (48:09):
I actually don't see, I don't see any separation between what either of you were saying and maybe it's because you know, both of you are so engaged in far along the off in the process and like you said, it's been 10 years. So now we've had opportunity to evaluate and take a look and, and kind of consider, and it's, you know, it's what, it's what you were talking about where our people are both in physical environments and in digital environments, digital is a great opportunity to engage them and to show them more spiritual content, but even create that kind of community and foster that community. And Jeff, you're 100% right that we could be creating consumers just as well in digital environments as we do in physical environments. And that's something that churches in general, like Jeff, you and I have discussed this before, like our strategy online and in person needs to be the same.

Rey DeArmas (48:51):
And we have to make sure and emphasize that whether it's consistently or or on an ongoing basis with our people just in terms of, Hey look, whether it's two or three environments you should be taking part in all of these things. And then Ed, to your point, and we've seen this small groups, even if they take place online are enhanced even more by meeting in physical spaces. They really are. And you know, Jeff's mom leads a small group with people who are separated by the time zones.

Jeff Reed (49:16):
Two small groups.

Rey DeArmas (49:16):
Two small groups. That's right. And you know, her relationship was enhanced even more. She and her husband were on vacation in Puerto Rico and went to go stay at one of the women that are in her Small Group. They went to go stay at her house. And they had dinner with her husband and spent time with her. That's only growing and building that community. And if I were to ask Linda, Hey, look, does physical, you know, does physical meetups enhance your online relationship? She would say 100% yes.

Ed Stetzer (49:40):
Yeah. No, that's good. That's good. So, so press on in good deeds and don't be, don't feel like Ed Stetzer's back there and saying, I got some concerns, you kids. I just, again, I guess, you know, I'm a professor, I'm supposed to ask those questions. And so, and I think that sharpens us too. I think that some of the people who may be criticized the, I use the example earlier of the seeker movement in the 90s. I mean, I learned from, and I'm like, yeah, you know, that is kind of a valid criticism, but don't miss on all the amazing, and people are coming to Jesus and I think people are engaged in the culture, so don't miss all of that. But yeah, there's some things we need to think about and be careful about too.

Jeff Reed (50:16):
Awesome. Well, Hey, we're going to land the plane and I really appreciate your time. I know you're very busy with doing life things that you are and, I have loved having you on this podcast and even just spending more time with you, you're going to be speaking down here in Miami, April 2nd, with Wellspring Counseling Center, doing a thing where Wellspring is literally addressing a lot of the stigmas centered around mental health. And so in Miami, we're going to be over at a Wayside Baptist church. You can go to wellspringmiami.org for more information on that.

Ed Stetzer (50:50):
So Wellspring is, there's all kinds of like centers and people working all over South Florida. So if you're in any place and you just want to make it down for the gathering, it would be worth your time. And what's the webpage? They find that.

Jeff Reed (51:02):
Yeah, it's wellspring. miami.org. We're going to be broadcasting it online. So if you hit me up on @deerffej or follow a Wellspring Miami on social media, you can find more information there. And, I get to hang out with my friend Ed and produce another event, small tip on Ed, when he's on stage, he normally has an iPad with him that he has all his notes in, but he's also texting the production director when anything goes wrong in the room to make sure that he knows that Ed knows that something went wrong in the room.

Ed Stetzer (51:33):
As I might text and say, Hey, do we have that verse wrong? Are the lights for, I don't even know. I don't know what I've texted about. What have I texted about?

Jeff Reed (51:42):
Oh, it's been awesome. My favorite one was, I was, I was camera directing and Ed texted me, he's like, you forgot to start the clock that would let Ed know how long he had to go. He's like, you forgot to start the clock. And I said, I texted him back while camera directing. No, I didn't. It's running fine. And he's like, no, really, it's not working. And I leaned over to the guy and I was like, did you remember to start the clock literally sitting next to me? Did you remember to start the clock? And the guy's like, Oh crap, I forgot. And he pressed it. So like Ed is just constantly engaging in this stuff and it is so awesome.

Ed Stetzer (52:16):
You make it sound like I wrote a sentence, I think I probably wrote clock and then you're like, it's working fine. And I said, no. It's not like, yes, I was teaching a sermon at that time, but it wasn't like, Dear Jeff, I'd like to point out to you that the chronometer that is my appropriate completion time for my sermon anyway, you get the point.

Rey DeArmas (52:36):
I thought youu're going to start live tweeting now while you're preaching. That's like the next level. Oh my goodness.

Jeff Reed (52:45):
Awesome. Well, Ed, thank you for jumping on the podcast, for Rey, for Ed, this is Jeff with The Church Digital. Thanks for jumping on this one and we'll see you next time on the podcast. You all have a good day.

3 Implications of Church Decline
Developing Your Data Strategy for Church Online

About Author

Jeff Reed
Jeff Reed

With about 20 years experience serving the church in the digital/technological realm, Jeff loves working with churches. As passionate about Discipleship as he is Technology, Jeff uses his passion to help Churches develop technology systems to bring people far from God closer to him. Oh, and he loves Digital Church & Church Online.

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