Archives For vision

By Jeff Gonzalez 

More people will volunteer if you recognize the obstacles

Jeff GonzalezMore than 10 million people volunteer in only seven organizations: Special Olympics, Salvation Army, YMCA, Habitat for Humanity, United Way, American Red Cross, Big Brothers/Big Sisters. And yet there are hundreds of volunteer organizations. The reason those few organizations have the lion’s share of volunteers is because they offer a compelling vision. They move the hearts of people to serve.

The church has the greatest message ever told and the greatest mission to humanity. The church needs to do a better job communicating the vision so volunteers can understand their impact when God uses them to change a life for the kingdom. If the church is able to cast a compelling vision of the incredible opportunity God gives his followers to make an eternal difference in the life of another person, then more people will volunteer to serve.

God gave the church his own mission to go out and reach lost people with the gospel, baptizing them, teaching them, and sending them out as disciples. God gives us the opportunity to be part of his kingdom purpose.

What is great about this mandate is that God gives each of us special gifts to accomplish it. He describes his people with these unique gifts as part of the body. He hasn’t called all of us to be the head or the arm. Instead he illustrates how the parts working together as a body can accomplish incredible things, but every member must bring his own unique gifts to the enterprise.

Overcoming the barriers
The Unstuck Group conducted a survey on volunteerism in the church. They reported 46% of adults and students serve in their church at least once per month. At the high end of the report, churches reported 70% engagement, and the lowest reported was 20% engagement.

Whatever the percentages, every church could use more workers. A ministry leader is always in need of them, but sometimes good volunteers can be hard to find. We may sometimes blame the commitment level of our congregation. We ask ourselves, “Why don’t more people step up and serve?” But a better question is, “What’s preventing people in our church from engaging in service?”

Rather than bemoan the lack of volunteers, many churches could benefit from this simple exercise—identify the barriers to service, and do something about them. In addition to vision, here are a few additional barriers:

  • Nobody’s tracking service. Without tracking participation, it’s hard to know if the church is making progress.
  • The church has too many ministries. Sometimes the problem is not lack of workers, but too many slots. Cutting unneeded or outdated ministries will free up people to serve.
  • The boarding process is unclear. In some churches, it’s just too hard to get into the system. Check the volunteering process for clear entry points and adequate training for specific ministries.

Remember, it’s not the lack of volunteers that keeps a church from being effective in ministry. It’s the barriers that keep would-be volunteers on the bench rather than in the work. When we present service as a spiritual growth opportunity, instead of a survival tactic for the church, we will see people step up. When we are engaging more volunteers, then we will know that people are growing in their walk with Christ.

Jeff Gonzalez is an experienced leader in business and ministry. He is a consultant with IBSA in the area of church health and growth.

Composite image of woman pretending to be superhero

After serving in ministry for 18 years, I recognize the enormous temptation to look like another pastor or church. When we see the “success” another local church is experiencing, we want it for our church as well. But to copy another church ignores factors like location, budget, and volunteers. What’s most important is that you do you!

Here are three steps to owning your identity as a church:

1. Know who you are. Churches can be faithful to the message of the gospel while using different methods. Jesus said that true worshippers are those who worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24). This has nothing to do with what musical style or small group approach you use, but it’s easy to put greater focus on these methods than on our message of Christ.

Every church has strengths. Let me say that again…every church has strengths! Don’t become so consumed with where you want to improve, that you fail to celebrate your staff or volunteers who are laboring effectively.

Perhaps your church is doing a great job engaging and discipling kids, caring for widows, or helping families with the most basic of needs. Communities would be better off if churches worked to their strengths instead of trying to assimilate the strengths of the church down the street.

Knowing who you are also means you know your weaknesses. Perhaps your nursery area is in need of major overhaul. Before you start plugging leaks, ask yourself this question: How long has this been broken? If it hasn’t worked for five years, you can take five months to get the right partners and procedures in place to make a turnaround. Our once-broken nursery is now a safe and inviting area of our church, and a place I applaud our leaders often. It wasn’t a quick turnaround, but it was an honest and effective one. Take a breath and make a plan.

2. Know where you are. There is great variety among our nearly 1,000 IBSA churches. Rockford, Springfield, and Marion share a state, but all have different cultures.

For example, our community has a large number of unchurched, former Catholics, and people who’ve never heard of Southern Baptists. As a result, I take time to clarify elements of the worship service more than I did while serving in Arkansas. These explanations aren’t for the regulars, but to engage the newcomers. I’m also more deliberate in bringing Scripture to the screen during a sermon, knowing there are many here with little experience or knowledge to navigate the Bible quickly.

Be sure also to own your area. Our church is First Baptist of Machesney Park, meaning Machesney Park is our starting point. Like many churches, we draw from several neighboring towns, but our first priority is at our own front door. We work to not just be “of” Machesney Park, but “for” Machesney Park.

While I’d like to see our impact stretch out even more into the neighboring communities of our First family, knowing who and where we are is our first step for message impact.

3. Know where you’re going. Knowing who and where you are allows slight adjustments as you work to strengthen current ministry efforts. But you should also be asking long-term adjustment questions: Where are we going? What is the future impact we want to have as a church?

When we asked ourselves those questions, our answer was clear: young adult ministry.
Like many churches I’ve been around, we had a gap between our youth ministry and regular adult ministries. So, two years ago I began praying and talking with our leadership council about how we could have an impact among college-aged/young adults. This was a vital step to ensure our growing youth ministry could funnel our graduates into a clear next step for their discipleship in our church.

God has since brought a group of young adults into the life of our church who have connected well with our youth group grads. We’ve still got room for improvement, but taking the time to plan, instead of just reacting to a need, is setting our church up to serve the next generation.

To summarize: Be sure you know who you are. Own it. Celebrate it. Improve it.

Be sure you know where you are. Get involved. Make connections. Be a neighbor.

Be sure you know where you are going. What future ministry goal could your church set?

Heath Tibbetts is pastor of First Baptist Church, Machesney Park.

Cultivate spiritual health

ib2newseditor —  February 9, 2017

tibbettsTimes of ministry burnout are coming, Heath Tibbetts told leaders gathered in Springfield for the Illinois Leadership Summit. So are areas of weakness. But there is a way to prepare for those inevitable difficulties, said the pastor of First Baptist Church in Machesney Park.

“Spiritual build-up prepares us for burnout and blind spots that we know are on the horizon,” Tibbetts said during his breakout session on the spiritual health of a leader.

One warning sign that spiritual build-up may be lacking, Tibbetts said, is reacting poorly to challenges. There was a time, he said, when his church didn’t plan for occasional obstacles, like losing a Sunday school teacher or facing a bill they couldn’t afford to pay. Leaders can fail to prepare in the same way, if they allow their current plans and level of knowledge to be enough.

“Visionless ministry punches the clock.”

So, how can a leader make sure his or her spiritual health is strong? Tibbetts suggested several ideas, including coaching from other leaders. He recently starting a mentoring relationship with a pastor in another part of the country, which started when Tibbetts read a magazine article about how the other church was utilizing facility space and e-mailed the pastor a question.

There’s also a need for trusted friends who can ask questions like, “How’s your relationship with your wife?” Tibbetts added.

Building oneself up spiritually also comes from time with God himself, he reminded his audience. “Personal devotion is one of the easiest things to let slip in your life.” As a pastor, if sermon preparation is the only study he does, Tibbetts said, and if he isn’t spending devotion time in other parts of Scripture, not only will the sermon be lacking, but he’ll also be missing a valuable build-up opportunity.

When ministry burnout does come, Tibbetts said, there are ways to confront it. Unplug, and “say no a lot.” Leaders need to remember their vision for ministry, even apart from what they are currently doing. “Visionless ministry punches the clock,” Tibbetts said, asking leaders to identify, What defines you separately from your ministry?

And keep building up. Tibbetts said a man in his church recently waited two months to call him for a counseling appointment, because he knew his pastor would ask about his spiritual life, and he wanted to make sure he was reading his Bible. If you’re confronting burnout, Tibbetts said, schedule more times of prayer.


Mark_Warnock_blog_calloutCOMMENTARY | Mark Warnock

I resigned in December from my church, First Baptist Columbia, to return to my home state of Florida. God has burdened me with the vast lostness of South Florida, and impressed upon me a duty to be closer to my aging parents. I’m moving down to join a church planting movement in South Florida, and to shine my little Gospel light in that darkness.

This move brings to a close 17 years of ministry in Illinois – six-and-a-half years in Chicagoland, and eleven years in the Metro East. I leave behind a host of people at my church and throughout the state that I love and respect. As I leave Illinois, I see both a lingering challenge and a great hope.

The primary challenge I see is the same one the church faces everywhere: selfishness. On a personal level, a church level, and a denominational level, we must fight constantly the Satanic gravity of our own selfishness that wants to make our lives all about us, our churches all about us, and our denomination all about us.  Jesus our Savior came not to be served, but to serve, and He calls us to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and to follow Him.

God formed a church to be a light to the world, for His glory. He has graciously allowed us to cooperate as a denomination to pool our efforts to fulfill the Great Commission, for His glory. So to the leaders in Illinois: Do not stop calling us outward, to the lost. Remember Luke 15, and the priority of God our Father: “…there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.”

This fight to keep our eyes outward is not in vain, because there are signs of hope everywhere. Here are three I see:

Planting churches. I learned during my time at Columbia that one key to a healthy church is a steady stream of new converts. Like families, which continue to exist only if new babies are regularly born into them, churches begin to die without new spiritual life, and denominations begin to die without new churches.

I’m encouraged that God is calling men and women to devote their lives to starting new churches, and that IBSA is giving great priority to new church starts all across the state. Even more, I’m encouraged that increasingly, established IBSA churches are beginning to discover the joy and adventure of partnering with, supporting and working alongside church plants for the advancement of the Gospel.

Thinking students. I began teaching high school students at IBSA’s Super Summer in the late 90s. Many of the students I had in the early years are now pastoring or leading in churches across our state. I have been consistently impressed with the quality of the students in Illinois. They are passionate about the Gospel, hungry to be taught, and eager to love God with their minds. If our churches fail to equip our students with a clear understanding of the Gospel and the intellectual tools to be apologists in a hostile culture, we are in deep, deep trouble. The good news is that when presented with the challenge, our students – our future leaders – consistently rise to it.

A saving God. The real reason I have hope for the Gospel in Illinois and in South Florida? God keeps saving people. In my Monday night men’s group in Columbia, God kept saving some of the most unlikely men. In my first Sunday at my new church in West Palm Beach, I met a woman who came to church without an invitation, just stirred by the Spirit, and not knowing why she was there. She came to faith that week.

Consider Jesus’ answer to the scribes in Mark 2:17 who asked why He was eating with unlikely dinner guests – sinners and tax collectors. “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do need one. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

No one is as passionate as our God to save sinners like us.

So to my colleagues in the Gospel across Illinois: Thank you for 17 years of friendship and love. Don’t lose heart. Let your light shine in the darkness. Keep speaking of Jesus. Keep fighting the good fight. Keep holding out the Gospel, because our God is willing and mighty to save.

Mark Warnock formerly served as associate pastor of First Baptist, Columbia.


When hundreds of churches convene next month for the IBSA Annual Meeting in Decatur, we will assemble under the theme “Mission Illinois.” For me, however, it’s more than a meeting theme. In the days ahead, I hope the mantra of Mission Illinois will begin to represent a fresh new vision of why we as churches choose to cooperate, and how we measure our effectiveness as a state association.

For several years now, we as the churches and leaders of IBSA have focused our energies on four key priorities: strengthening churches, starting churches, sending Christians into their Acts 1:8 mission fields, and stimulating stewardship among churches so we can do our part with other Southern Baptists to fund the larger missions efforts of the SBC.

Our goals within those key priorities have been aggressive, and we haven’t always attained them. But for the most part we are training more leaders with fewer staff, starting a steady number of new churches with lower national funding, and directly assisting more churches in their evangelism and missions efforts in spite of higher travel costs and a challenging economy.

But we as an association of churches still long to see increases in indicators such as baptisms, worship and Bible study participation, and the net number of IBSA churches – all of which have remained relatively flat over the past few years. We don’t care about numbers for numbers’ sake, but because they are indicators of missional advance, church health, and Kingdom expansion. We want to see lostness decrease and the accessibility of Bible-believing churches increase.

So I’ve been asking myself, and would invite you to ask with me, what might need to change? How might we adjust our efforts in this mission we call Illinois?

I don’t claim to have it figured out yet, or that I can do it alone. More often than not, I feel like our blind dog Willy that I described in the last issue. In fact, our mission here in Illinois is partly what I had in mind when I wrote, “There are times when it seems that I just can’t see things, or can’t see where things are going, with the clarity or certainty I would like. Things in my family, my work, my church, things in Baptist life, things in our nation, things on the world scene – all seem to be less predictable, less comfortable than in the past.”

That certainly is an environment where faith and dependence on God for vision are desperately needed, as Willy’s situation illustrates. And so I have not been hasty to propose a new mission statement or declare a new direction. I’m praying and thinking, listening and observing, drafting and revising, waiting and praying. And I invite you to join me, and to e-mail, write or call with your thoughts or ideas.

In the next couple of issues, I’m going to share a little more of what I think “Mission Illinois” might mean as a vision for our future as IBSA churches. On one hand, it’s hard for me to imagine that strengthening churches and starting churches and sending Christians on mission, and stimulating faithful stewardship among churches will not still be primary priorities. On the other hand, I can’t help but believe that God wants to do more through our cooperation than we are currently experiencing.

So please join me in prayer and creative thinking as we approach this year’s IBSA Annual Meeting. For us as Illinois Baptists, Mission Illinois must be more than an annual meeting theme. It must become a rallying cry for reinvigorated, purposeful cooperation that actually impacts the lostness of our Illinois mission field.