The Death of A Local Church: 5 Lessons Every Church Must Learn

Today I received the news that one of our Kentucky churches is shutting her doors. Through interviews and historical records, five things emerged that caused the death of this church. Please read the article and see for yourself that the five things mentioned below must be addressed and overcome or we may continue to see more and more precious churches dying a slow death.

1.     Pastors must be given the freedom to utilize their God-given gifts and influence to lead.

2.     Deacons mustn’t be given the authority to remove the pastor when he leverages his God-given influence to lead.

3.     Congregants must know their community and sacrifice their personal preferences to reach the community.

4.     Congregants must set aside their generation’s methods and preferences and employ methods that will reach the next generation with the gospel.

5.     Church polity mustn’t allow uninvolved members to cast a vote on important issues.

Obviously, pastors aren’t to be autocrats, churches must transition slowly, and church members must be led by pastors who care for the congregation they lead and wisely make change. But, doing the same things we’ve been doing while watching the church continue to decline is not only devastating, it’s unwise and flies in the face of common sense.


Church Discipline… Really?!


A New Book on Spiritual Disciplines That Gets It


Philip Nation is the Director of Content Development with LifeWay Christian Resources, serves as Teaching Pastor for The Fellowship, a multi-campus church in Nashville, and is someone I am proud to call friend. He has a new book that is released yesterday – Habits for Our Holiness: How the Spiritual Disciplines Grow Us Up, Draw Us Together, and Send Us Out. I asked Philip to stop by the site and share a bit about the new work. The following is an excerpt from his book. It is contained in the chapter “Treaty or Surrender: The Practice of Submission.”

The garden of Gethsemane is the bookend to the prayer life of Jesus, the final recorded prayer before His walk to Calvary. Remember that at the beginning of His ministry, Jesus fasted forty days and then faced Satan’s temptations. Now, as the conclusion of His ministry approaches, He separates Him- self from the apostles for a little while to pray before His arrest and crucifixion.

He fell facedown and prayed, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” . . . Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, Your will be done.” (Matt. 26:39, 42)

In the garden prayer, Jesus teaches us two things about submission. First, we learn that it occurs in the context of relationship. Jesus addressed God the Father. It was not an im- personal and passionless portion of the Trinity to whom Jesus spoke. Rather, He was communing with the Father who loves the Son and is pleased with Him. We live out a reality reflecting the same principle. We are not submitting to a nameless, faceless power. Rather, we do this in the context of a loving covenant. We submit because we love Him. He accepts our surrender because He loves us.

The second lesson from the garden prayer is that submission is hard. It is why we should view it as a discipline. In a brief amount of time, the Son asks the Father about the “cup” passing from Him. In other words, Jesus is asking if there is another way to obtain our salvation. Being divine, the Lord knows there is not. I believe His request and immediate submission takes place to give us the example that submission is necessary, even when it is difficult. The gospel of Luke records that Jesus anguished through the prayer and sweat drops like blood (Luke 22:44). It is under this extreme pressure that Jesus entrusts Himself to the will of the Father. Thus, our salvation is won through His death and resurrection.

So our salvation arrives when we surrender to Jesus in faith. Our holiness is developed as we continue to walk in submission to His Spirit. Saint Ignatius once prayed:

Lord, I freely yield to You all my liberty,

Take my memory, my intellect, and my entire will. You have given me everything I am or have;

I give it all back to You to stand under Your will alone. Your love and Your grace are enough for me,

I ask for nothing more.

With this prayer, we see a picture for our own abandonment to God. It is the portrait of one laying down the heavy burden of self-rule. Rather than choose our own experiences, intellect, and self-direction, we submit joyfully to live by God’s love and grace. Nothing more.

Looking for an Incredible Discipleship Conference to Attend?

Are you coming to the Disciple Leader Gathering at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary? I sure hope so. Be sure to register soon.


What is a Disciple? – Featuring Robby Gallaty, Replicate Ministries, Pastor, Long Hollow Baptist Church, Hendersonville, TN.

Models of Discipleship Forum – Multiple presenters led by Bruce Raley, LifeWay Christian Resources and Casey Pearson, Kirby Wood Baptist Church, Memphis, TN.

Discipleship Trends – LifeWay research on trends related to church discipleship strategies. – Micah Fries, LifeWay Research

Putting Together Your Plan for Discipleship – Round table discussions and planning led by Steve Layton, Brentwood Baptist Church, Brentwood Baptist Church, Brentwood, TN.


  • Profile of a Disciple – Herb Hodges, Spiritual Life Ministries
  • Discipling the Family – Jacob Harris, Kirby Woods Baptist Church
  • Discipling Young Adults – Will McKay, Bellevue Baptist Church
  • The Role of Sunday School in Discipleship – Allan Taylor, LifeWay Christian Resources
  • Disciples Path Strategy – Rick Howerton, LifeWay Christian Resources
  • Journey On Discipleship Strategy – Steve Layton, Brentwood Baptist Church
  • The Downline Strategy – Kennon Vaughan, Harvest Church
  • Higher Education & Discipleship – Randy Stone, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
  • DLife: Living a Lifestyle of Discipleship – John Herring, Life Bible Study


Where New Small Group Pastors Can Get the Training They Need


If you’re like me, you started in ministry with a lot of gaps that needed to be filled. You were excited about doing ministry but didn’t really know what you were doing. Once I realized where my weaknesses were, I could respond accordingly. I disciplined myself to learn what needed to be learned by reading the right books, going to the right conferences, being connected to the right organizations, and interviewing the right people.

Below you’ll find a list may be helpful to you as you journey into small group leadership.

Foundational Small Group Ministry Books:

Prepare Your Church for the Future by Carl George

Building a Life-Changing Small Group Ministry by Bill Donahue

Leading Life Changing Small Groups by Bill Donahue

Small Groups With Purpose by Steve Gladen

Leading Small Groups With Purpose by Steve Gladen

Connecting in Communities by Eddie Mosley

Community: Taking Your Small Group Off Life Support by Brad House

Starting Small By Ben Reed

Destination Community: Small Group Ministry Manual by Rick Howerton


Conferences to Attend:

Small Group Beta, Sponsored by LifeWay Church Resources (Invitation only event. Email me at for an invitation)

The Lobby, Sponsored by the Small Group Network

Re:Group, Sponsored by North Point Community Church

GROUPS200, Sponsored by LifeWay Church Resources (Invitation only event. Email me at for an invitation)


Organizations to Join:

Small Group Network


Facebook Groups to Join:

Small Group Network


Small Group Ministry Practitioners










Undeniable Facts… Why Starting New Small Groups Isn’t Optional

optionalComponentsEvery groups pastor I’ve ever met is outrageously passionate about starting new groups. In fact, starting new groups may be, in the minds of most groups point people, the most important thing they do.

In order for that to happen the groups pastor has to sell the idea to group leaders, coaches, and sometimes, even to the church staff and the elders. And if the small group pastor entered a situation where the birthing of new groups from pre-existing groups wasn’t on the radar screen of the prior groups point person, getting group leaders to consider multiplying in order to start new groups is like getting mice to purposefully march into a series of mousetraps. Groups Point People, if they’re going to start new groups, need ammunition they can use to convince people the starting of new groups is non-optional.

There are many great reasons to start new groups. A few of those would fall into two categories, the “Three tions” and the “Four Creates.”

 The Three “…tions

  1. Assimilation – When people visit a church, one of the first questions they’re asking themselves is, “Will I be able to find and make some friends?” At the point they realize they won’t be able to connect with some people at a meaningful level, they’ll soon try some other church. Small Groups are the perfect place to meet and get to know people. If a church is going to assimilate people into church life, starting new groups is a must.
  1. Justification – Justification is simply, being made righteous in the sight of God. That is, realizing one’s need for a Savior and allowing the blood of Jesus Christ to cleanse them from all unrighteousness, becoming a Christian. For those who are not yet followers of Christ there’s no better place for them to hear the Gospel, process the Gospel, see the Gospel lived out in the lives of a few believers, and choose to receive the transformational power of the Gospel.
  1. Sanctification – Sanctification is the stage-by-stage growth that takes place as someone becomes more and more like Jesus Christ. This happens in community, a community small enough to know one another really, learn God’s Word together, hold one another accountable to live God’s Word, and drive one another to study and be saturated in God’s Word. A biblical small group is that community.


The Four Creates

Anything new creates a sense of anticipation and is a magnet for many people. Think about it. Church plants grow faster than existing churches. New movements grow faster than those that have lost their newness. Starting new groups creates an air of anticipation. In fact, each time a new group is started those who may have not been willing to join a group in the past are much more apt to do so

Other than creating a sense of anticipation, what do new groups do? A few of those things are listed below.:

  1. Creates Space for Newbies – Oftentimes our groups are all full. There’s no room for anyone else in the households where groups are meeting. Some will say, “Just add more people. They all don’t show up at the same time anyway.” The reason they don’t show up consistently is because, when a group gets to be too large, people get lost in the crowd and don’t feel they make enough difference to feel obligated to show up each week. Not only that, when new people try a group and the room is full, they feel very uncomfortable as they feel as though they’re taking someone else’s seat or making the room even more crowded. Starting a new group with the correct number of people creates space for those who aren’t in a group but are in the hunt for one.
  1. Creates a Safe Place for Newbies – Group members visiting a pre-existing group for the first time quickly realize that those who are already in the group have history. They also intuitively understand that they’re outsiders that will never know all the inside jokes or be able to connect at the level of those who have been together for months or years. The group doesn’t feel like an emotionally safe place to them because they don’t believe they’ll ever be insiders. Starting a new group gives newbies equal footing and a chance to join others who are beginning the journey at the same time together.
  1. Creates a Family for Those in Need of a Family – Every believer needs a Christian family, a small group of believers who have the indwelling Holy Spirit in them, who allow the Word of God to guide their lives, and who will care for and meet one another’s emotional and material needs. Starting new groups makes it possible for those who need a room full of Christian brothers and sisters to do life’s journey with to connect and become a family.
  1. Creates a Safe Place for Stories to be Told – As we tell our stories, God redeems our stories. Each time a new group is started those who make up the group have the opportunity to speak openly about their dark past and journey into the light while at the same time looking over their shoulders and celebrating what God has already done for them.


What Is A Successful Small Group Ministry – Really?


What is a successful small group ministry? This is a question every small group point person must ask. If we never ask this question, we never know what we must accomplish so we can never strategize for accomplishment.

But we must first ask who gets to answer the question, “What is a successful small group ministry?”. If we ask the senior pastor, we may be told that a successful small group ministry is a ministry that helps weekend worshipers make friends so that they will stick. If we ask the Finance Team they may be prone to declare that a successful small group ministry brings more tithers into the congregation. If we ask the elders, they may say the small group ministry is successful when no need goes unmet. If we ask group members, they’ll most likely tell us a successful small group ministry makes sure they can have some close friends. And if you ask yourself, the Small Group Point Person, you may say a successful small group ministry is a ministry that functions within its budget and is an efficient machine starting a massive number of new groups annually.

But, who should answer the question, “What is a successful small group ministry?” There’s only one right answer to this question – Jesus. If Jesus were to answer this question, he’d tell us that a successful small group ministry makes mature disciples who then make disciples.

So – are you leading a successful small group ministry?

Rick Howerton

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