3 Ways to Keep Your Sheep From Being Stolen

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People are mobile in today's world: Some churches grow and some decline. But what's really going on?

Recently, pastor and theologian David Fitch engaged Ed Stetzer on his data about megachurches and sheep stealing, it seemed that the only thing they could agree on is that there were too many church transfers.

This is part of who we are as a country. The average American moves 14 times over his or her lifetime. And 58 percent of people who have changed churches, changed for reasons that had nothing to do with location.

There may be reasons to leave a church. In a way, church-hopping is very American. It makes sense in a place full of personalized playlists and individualized movie recommendations.

It would be easy to write off church hopping as a cultural phenomenon. You could even cite the individual for a lack of spiritual maturity. But churches have a responsibility as well.

Imagine if your sheep were so deeply committed to your church that it would be hard to accept a job offer in a new city.

Imagine if there was such a level of commitment that they would be willing to put up with poor preaching and bad music.

Church-hopping and sheep-stealing don’t have to be inevitable.

But it will require doing at least three things differently.

1. Build a Community They Don’t Want to Leave.

Think of the closest community that you have ever experienced.

Maybe it was your traveling basketball team in high school, your best friends from college or the connections you made on a mission trip. Do you remember that heartwrenching feeling you had when it was time to leave that community?

Does your church feel that way?

Churches are often indicted for being nothing more than purveyors of religious goods and services. They may even “sell” community through some sort of small group system or another official program. But these are often attended only by a small percentage of the church. They can easily become a perfunctory event rather than a time of deep communal sharing.

The second chapter of Acts paints a picture of the young church gathering daily in the temple courts, eating in each others homes, sharing possessions and growing numerically. 

Chris Morton Chris Morton serves as Community Developer at Austin Mustard Seed, a new church plant for Austin, Texas. He is also a freelance writer and social media strategist. Subscribe to Chris's blog about growth and mission at ChrisMorton.info.

More from Chris Morton or visit Chris at http://chrismorton.info/thanks-for-visiting-me/

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  • http://www.facebook.com/merrell.cottoniii Merrell Cotton III

    Very good article. I agree with you about building a tight knit group. I would be interested in your thoughts though about how should the church concern themselves with issues of trust that people have. Keep up the great work Chris.

    • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

      Thanks Merrell. Trust is tough! It takes a long time to develop. This is why, at our church, there are differing ways for people to plug in. Some people will only come on Sunday, or only show up for parties. Over time, they begin to participate in Liturgy, small groups, living situations and discipleship. I’ve seen it take over two years for this to happen. I wish it happened sooner, but you can’t force people to trust.

      • Noemi Arteaga (Spain)

        Can you tell me a little more about what you did to develope it? Thank you

  • Benjamin Conway

    How does someone changing churches mean they can be leveled of sheep stealing? A few people have come to us from other churches recently because our church is a kinder, more loving community and has helped them. That is not sheep stealing!

    On the other hand, I have had “pastors” standing outside our service inviting people to their church, putting flyers on their cars while they were with us, and filming our children and putting the film on their website as their church.

    If it is genuine sheep stealing, you just smile and love. People are not stupid, they can spot a shyster. If it is a sheep leaving a desert and finding a field, rejoice. If pastors need to be told to build community and be the body of Christ, perhaps they need to find a new vocation!

    • Peter Mahoney

      “Our church is a kinder more loving community and has helped them.”

      Until “kinder” and “loving” are defined and universally understood, they are meaningless. What if a person is biblically disciplined and has been disfellowshiped (excluded) from membership and that individual then runs to the “kinder” more “loving” church?

      Listen, kindness is a fruit of the spirit and being loving is essential to any ministry, but those things have to function within a context. The only context those things have any redemptive quality is when they are functioning in a community (church) that is at its core… biblical. If “kindness” and “loving” are buzzwords for being tolerant of sin or accepting of things that are against the cause of Christ, the Great Commission or Great Commandments… then we have functional apostasy.

      • Benjamin Conway

        I could define them in the specific context of particular individuals. I am talking about such things as people walking in and out of a church without someone talking to them. I am tolerant of sin – that is the heart of Christ – he told the woman that he didn’t condemn her. He picked a man who publicly denied him and chose him to be the conference speaker just 7 weeks later. He chose Saul to be Paul, he loved everyone. He even washed Judas’ feet and showed him love and kindness.

        These are not buzz words – unconditional love is one of our church’s core cultural values. The irony is that as we show that love, people live holy more than if we focus on sin and negativity.

        I know people who are kicked out their church for smoking, come to us accepted and then set free through our love and acceptance.

        • Peter Mahoney

          Christ is tolerant of sin… are you kidding? How can God be tolerant of the very thing he HATES most in the universe? (Psalm 5.5, 11.5; Isaiah 59.2). Does He love and forgive, absolutely. Those things are experienced as a result of exercising repentance and faith as He provides them to us.

          And for the record, church discipline is not “kicking” someone out of the church. But if your “church” receives those who have been biblically disciplined, you have not helped, you have hindered the redemptive/restorative process (assuming the discipline was handled correctly in the first place… smoking would not be a reason for discipline).

          • Benjamin Conway

            Are you dead? Are you in hell?

            No?! Then Christ is tolerant of sin. Because otherwise you would be,

          • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

            @benjaminconway:disqus seems to be describing a value of welcoming those who have been burned by previous experiences. @facebook-575004559:disqus is a proponent of church discipline, which is important, too.

            The article is meant to explore what kind of Christian community would be worth remaining a part of in spite of consumeristic desires, hurt feelings, and necessary discipline.

            What do you think? Is it possible to do all of these things at once? My fear is that churches are encouraging “free agents,” who will never feel accepted or receive discipline when necessary.

          • Benjamin Conway

            I think that one of the greatest dangers of this age is a consumeristic attitude to church. However, to just berate people as being “free agents” (I know you are not berating here, Chris, but that is how it can often seem from the pulpit) for not being counter-cultural is not enough.

            In my opinion people need two things to make a lasting paradigm shift: identity and intimacy. You cannot change your worldview unless you change your personal perception of yourself. As long as someone sees themselves as a loser, a victim, a consumer, they will never be committed to community no matter what.

            The irony is that unless a community is committed to that individual they will never make that shift in personal perception. You can pray and speak to yourself until you are blue in the face, but until someone with flesh and bones tells you that you are accepted, it is very, very hard for that truth to sink in.

            So – you make the front door as wide as you can. All are welcome. We had a lady come to us recently whose last church could not accept her tattoos. All means all – unconditional means no conditions. You don’t attempt to separate the wheat and the chaff too early as you might damage the wheat. You accept and deliberately, intentionally show love to everyone you encounter.

            I think church discipline is often an excuse to boot out people who don’t look like us. We had a lady come to us who still worshipped her Hindu idols as well as Jesus. We just loved her, helped her, taught her the Word and before long, God showed her to lay the idols down. I told the Lord “Shouldn’t I do something about the fact she is worshipping idols?” His response in my spirit was this: “We all have idols, hers are just more obvious because they are not from your culture”.

            We have to welcome and love all people, believe all things, hope all things. No matter what.

          • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

            Love it! My hope is that this article will inspire less berating, and more introspection on the part of leaders. It sounds like your community is the kind of place worth sticking around for.

          • Peter Mahoney

            Chris, I would contend that “welcoming” the lost/hurt into the folds of community and discipline (which is an extension of biblical discipleship) are both necessary.

            The point I’m driving at is that the Scriptures create separate paradigms for the lost/unchurched/nones and those who claim Christ. 1 Corinthians 5 is not about a person who is an outsider, it’s about a Christ-Follower who is walking in some pretty horrible places. That same person who is an outsider should be loved on and loved into the Kingdom. To expect an individual who does not have the indwelling Holy Spirit making Philippians 2.13 a reality… “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him”… is unrealistic and impossible. As a Christ-Follower, I do expect other believers to be living out that truth.

            It seems to me that we have lost the distinction between those who are outside Christ and those who are inside. That said, even in discipline there is love and the goal is ALWAYS repentance and restoration.

          • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

            Good thoughts. Going back to the original thrust of the article, I’m hoping to see churches be places where people want to stay even if they have previous wounds, or after they receive discipline. Have you seen this done successfully in your setting?

          • Peter Mahoney

            In 5 years, we’ve been compelled to follow through with the final step of Matthew 18 just one time. As a matter of fact, we restored the individual to membership last night as a matter of fact with a unanimous vote and thunderous applause of worship.

            The individual was militantly unrepentant in their sin which was grievous and destructive. Leading the church family through the final step may have been the most difficult thing I have ever done in ministry. I consider the person a friend and have spent countless hours with them. In 3 months and us journeying with the person and their family, I am grateful to share that repentance and restoration are the testimony. Not an easy journey, but definitely worth it!

          • Dalia

            God is long-suffering. I don’t believe He is tolerant. In the OT, we see how serious He considers sin. We are under grace now, but still intolerant, just long-suffering

  • Chad

    I disagree with the way this information is presented. I understand what you are saying, but I believe it has come across too “community” focused. Church is about Christ and it is Christ that should draw the people to it, not community. While creating a sense of community is important, it is not the goal of the church. Community is a natural by-product of a Christ-centered church. If a church is Biblically presenting the Gospel and offering opportunities for the people to grow deeper in their relationship with Jesus (not serve, but learn), then true community will develop. God works by saving an individual (justification), and then works in them to conform them to Christ (sanctification), and God calls that person for how He desires to use them (empowering for service). It takes spiritual people to do spiritual work. Too often I see churches rushing to get people busy serving with endless opportunities to get involved, and no emphasis of laying a foundation. It is possible to create community without laying a foundation, and this can result in them wanting to be there because of the people, not because of Christ. Lay a firm foundation of the true Gospel…community will follow. See the story of Mary & Martha, God is more interested in conforming us to the image of Christ then how we can serve Him. True sheep stick around because they are in a real, personal relationship with Christ and they know He has called them to be there, regardless of how they may “feel” or what they may like or dislike about the church.

    • Peter Mahoney

      Great response Chad!!!

    • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

      Chad, I’m not sure where your disagreement is. How can any of the discipling goals you describe here happen outside of community?

      You seem to be rephrasing my argument as “community to its own end.” Rather, I am starting with the presupposition that, as Lesslie Newbigin stated “the church is the hermeneutic of the gospel.” “Sanctification” and “empowering for service” as you describe can only happen within a body shaped the gospel.

      • Chad

        That’s why I said I disagree with the way the article is presented. I think I understand what you were trying to get across, but I feel there are no 3 steps to anything. It’s Christ. “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33 NASB). If we are doing that as a church then we don’t have to worry about anything else. God will bring the increase.

        • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

          That’s understandable (and it’s what happens when publishers pick the titles.) While I completely agree with your argument, I would encourage you to put some flesh on it. How would you describe a group of people who are seeking the kingdom? These “3 Ways” are simply that, a few descriptions of what it looks like to live this out together.

  • http://www.statestreetchurch.com/ Tom Peers

    I tend to be a realist. I don’t like that part of me, the part that is cynical, but here ya go anyhow. The way of the Church in the United States is the way of Wal-Mart or Home Depot and the small mom-and-pop stores. Sheep from smaller congregations are being sucked up by mega-churches because they offer more “goods”, and Americans are extremely consumeristic. I’m not even convinced they want true, deep community. I don’t agree with that and I think we should do all we can to reverse the trend ( a la … the above article) … but I don’t have a good prognosis for most small churches in the United States (and I pastor one).

    • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

      Tom, I’m a realist as well. However, as a Christ follower, I have to balance the realism with the theology of “now, but not yet.” This means two things (1) Striving towards practicing church in a less consumeristic, more communal way, and (2) Discipling towards less consumerisitc desires. Yes, you’ll loose people who want programs, but you should still strive toward the “not yet.”

      • http://www.statestreetchurch.com/ Tom Peers

        Oh, I agree, believe me. I’m doing my best to chip away at both the now and not yet. Thanks Chris.

        • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

          My struggle as a realist is to not let it drag me down. Keep up the good work!

    • CB

      Absolutely correct. The small parishes can’t compete with the “Big Box” on programs, and his point about building personal loyalty seems pretty soulish…and it doesn’t really work, anyway. The problem is that American Christians don’t go where they’re called…they go where it suits their flesh. Our collective faith is a mile wide and a quarter inch deep.

      • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

        I understand your frustration, @CB, but as I said to Tom, it’s not about what works. Actually nothing about following Christ is about “what works.” It’s bigger than that.

  • Southern Female Pastor

    People are gonna do what people are gonna do & in they tend to be drawn to “success” which (in the US) is more often defined as quantity rather than quality. I pastor a small church & we thrive on community/family/friendship. We are also a very active church outside the walls. Really, son’t we just want to hear “well done My good & faithful servant.” at the end of the day? What does it matter how many people are sitting on the row next to me or not?

    • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

      I think you are right that we shouldn’t focus on numbers. A better focus is trying to embody what it means to be the body of Christ. It sounds like your church is doing life together on mission. In such a place, people will likely stay until they sense God commissioning them to mission elsewhere.

  • archie pennington

    I am a pastor of a small church in a suburb of a large city. Mega churches do tend to fill because of all their “programs” that they have to offer. I have lost some folks to them, but II pray that they fill and have to build even more buildings . We all serve the same Master. We are not in competition with each other. Our enemy is the Devil and he is winning! There are more souls going to Hell than are going to heaven. I believe our greatest concern, especially in these latter days, is to reach all we can reach outside of our church, with the Gospel of Christ. What they will be drawn to is a demonstrable showing of the Agape love of Christ to each other. All this bickering about context of words and who is right (on non-essentials as this article) is what hinders us, I am afraid. Chris, good points for consideration. I am an old man but I hope I am still teachable. Pastor archie

    • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

      I love your attitude @77bd47b440a63c906130d8f36b7570fd:disqus, You’re responsibility isn’t to compete, but to lead in the best way you know how, to the glory of God for the sake of the world. (Although I wouldn’t mind if they shared their building budgets with us little guys ;).

  • NaNTHuel

    I would rather keep My ecumenical , charismatic spirit in the confines Of The Desert rather than in a Dead Church That Desires Of things Of The Spirit

    • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

      I’ve been there. It actually took me moving to a new city and visiting dozens of churches to discover the type of community I’m describing. Keep praying and looking.

  • Kindheart Love

    It’s not actually sheep stealing when our church members moved to another church. It’s maybe that there’s a problem in the leadership systems inside which we are to discover and deal with. It’s always the Church Leader who has the problem on how to treat the members. John 21:15-18 is very clear, that if we love Jesus, we should feed and take care of our sheeps. I am one of the core leaders of the church and we are almost loosing all our members because of our Pastor’s words that always condemned the members. “LOVE” should fill a Pastor’s heart to practice the art of retention of church members and visitors to come back. A Pastor chould have an evangelistic and missionary heart to not let the sheeps go astray.

    • Peter Mahoney

      Not disagreeing with the general principles of your post… but as a Pastor I would remind/encourage you to remember that we’re not mass produced in a factory. Pastors have different gift sets and talents. As a group, we are as diverse as the people we serve. Some will be uber-encouraging and relational while others will be exhorters and more doctrinally/theologically driven. Some are visionaries while still others are detail oriented. Whatever the make-up may be, most pastors strive to identify areas they fall short and pray that God would shore up their weaknesses. That said, we are who we are. In healthy churches, God crafts the people to compliment their leaders.

      Take me for example… I love the people I serve. I show up in times of trouble and I battle for them everyday. From the pulpit, I flow down similar rivers that Elijah, John the Baptist, and even Jesus did… bold and passionate. Over the years, many have criticized me as being “harsh” and there are probably times I have been. I’m sure other far more well known pastors/leaders get similar comments. While I have prayed and been intentional to not be those things… I have come to the conclusion that God crafted me a certain way and He has used men like me throughout history. I am growing to be more comfortable in my own shoes rather than try to be something I’m not.

      My job is not to “retain” members… preach, teach, cast vision, comfort, pray, lead… that’s my role. However God wants to use that… all glory be to Jesus.

      • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

        Peter, what a great calling. It’ll be great to see how God uses you more and more as those shoes get comfortable.

        I agree that “retaining” is not your job. However, I don’t think that this article, which focuses on Community, Mission and Engagement, is about that.

  • Ray Spence

    This works we have been doing this for the last 5 years. We have no sign, we are located out in the middle of nothing. Closet towns are 25 miles away but people feel apart of what is going on. The key is giving the ministry to the people. My wife has been very sick and it has made me give it away to the people. I wish I would have done this 26 years ago. It brings balance to church life.

    • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

      That’s great to hear, Ray. Especially how the church has blessed your wife. I’d love to hear about your journey.

    • Noemi Arteaga (Spain)

      I think it is a good argument. Do you have the problem that sometimes they give up after a while? What do you do in this case???

  • Christopher Pope

    i think the real reason that members leave some think that they are being talked about when its not the pastos but of the holy spirit speaking into there lives if we as christians could be just real about the gospel of jesus we could have more new members as well as the the ones that are already there we must be pure just as wheat bread could fill us up so quick in a couple of bites if we know the word of god and to keep his words pure and to be real about it we than could be filled up and the churches could be filled but we must first get our selves right with god and in our home were we live at that means not to bring your mess in the church with you this will divide the church if this happens in order to bring more members to your local churches we must live right because people are watching you as of how we are living its not all about programs if there is no god there the spirit want be there it will be just a big program but a whole lot of people want be saved numbers are not important its the souls that will make it in to glory so what if theres more people can you tell me will all of them make it in not all are on the same path so i say just deal with what you have and god will increase the rest but now it takes the members to tell there friends or someone just meet tell them about god and welcome them to your church it starts with the love of god in us so we could learn to love others as god love us as himself so try and go out to spread the good news we all need it …we do our part and god will do his part by bringing them into your church

  • Danny

    Didn’t expect to see expository preaching in the list. Shocker!

    • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

      Yeah…forgot that one… But I have seen people put up with some pretty crappy preaching in a place they feel they belong.

      • Odanga

        Odanga – The problem in Africa is attributed to untrained Sheapards who neither no how to do conflict resolution. Or systematic exposition of scripture. They get sheep that is very educated and can even notice my pastor is repeating equipped and is repeating himself. The fact that the are tired of milk and no meat they move looking for greener pasture.Secondly, church hopping in Kenya and Africa at large could be pegged on the fact that Shepard’s literally compete.

  • Denny johnson

    nice thoughts (article). keep loving people, keep letting the feel like “they belong”, loving them, complimenting them, encouraging them. Keep praying, discipling your staff to do the same. Choose a great children’s program….. half of the congregation will be kids. Use Story Telling in testimony time for adults and kids. Use prayer time for stories to evolve from it. Be sure the music includes songs that people can sing….. letting them participate in the program……. they love to be involved. But you have it right and are appreciated for taking time to share with all.

  • http://www.YourEverAfter.org/ Carlos Santiago

    While I understand and agree that we need to work at building better communities in our churches, I do not agree with the idea that the sheep are ours. Our goal should not be to
    build members, but disciples. They are not MY sheep. They belong to Christ. Like
    parenting, our job is to train, equip, and empower, fully expecting that one
    day they will leave. If God calls them to serve my church, then great. If not,
    its o.k. It doesn’t matter to me where they are serving as long as they are
    serving Him! Trying to selfishly hold on to members is sinful and if successful
    with teach People to pridefully worship their church or Pastor. This is idolatry.
    I would much rather a person stay because they feel they can answer God’s call
    on their life here, than because they have made a lot of friends.

    • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

      Good point Carlos. However, I hope you’ll read the article again, without this in mind: although the title has a bit of “tongue-and-cheek”, you’ll get no disagreement from me that the Church belong to Christ. Don’t miss the forest for the title :)

      You’ll also notice there’s no mention of “making a lot of friends.” A community, or as Alan Hirsch calls it a “communitas”, driven by mission, where individuals feel they are engaged as members of Christ’s body, is something much more powerful.

  • Vern

    And what if the “church” is bigger than your little congregation? The Lord said go unto all the earth and you want to keep them under your “care?” Furthermore who told you “they” are your sheep? This article is wrong on many levels. But first you need to ask the Lord to show you what the church is. May He bless you with much revelation.

    • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

      Hi @84a3b016429ad8f704802b61b28f561b:disqus

      While I appreciate your concern, you are being very vague. Could you explain what you find wrong?

  • Dan_Cartwright

    Years ago a founding member of a church in Massachusetts we attended, during a rough patch for the church, told me and my wife to stay wherever God plants us. That simple statement changed my ‘church selection’ criteria for the rest of my life. Certainly I will always ask of a church “What is the gospel that is preached here?” before I make a commitment to a particular body.
    I liked the comment here that said “True sheep stick around because they are in a real, personal relationship with Christ and they know He has called them to be there, regardless of how they may “feel” or what they may like or dislike about the church.”
    That doesn’t mean we don’t intentionally build ‘community’, but we must remember that the foundation is Christ and the ‘community’ building power of believers united in Christ and His gospel.

    • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

      These are great ideas. It sounds like your family has an incredible, and costly experience.

      If we disagree (I’m not sure that we do), it is that I do not know how one can have a “real, personal relationship with Christ” outside of community. When I read the gospels, it seems that following Christ is very concerned with how we treat others. When Peter preached at Pentecost, the response was that individuals began living in community. Paul spills a lot of ink describing how we are to do life together.

      Yes, Christ is our foundation. But how can we live that out alone?

      • Dan_Cartwright

        If my relationship with Christ is based on my personal belief and trusting him, then I think it ispossible to have a ‘real’ relationship at the personal level, but that our Christian growth will be incomplete outside of community.

  • preachrobert

    when pastors recognize that the sheep do not belong to them, that will help. we are called to lead the sheep to where God has intended for them to go. succcess in our area of ministry ought not to become number chrunching or head counting. the church’s job is to evangelize. every church is not called to do the same things in local ministry. people may need to move as God calls them to other area of service to the body. saometimes, even church membership is a journey

    • http://www.YourEverAfter.org/ Carlos Santiago

      Correct. They are God’s Sheep. He can move them where He wishes. Of course we should do all we can to ensure that our churches are healthy, but we needn’t concern ourselves with the number of Sheep. We just need to be faithful with what God has given us. If that means our congregation is small, then it means we have the time to make sure that that small congregation is as Sold Out to Christ as they can be. If it means our church closes because we can’t pay the bills, we still didn’t lose. Because we have helped to develop our small congregation as best as we could and they will serve God with passion someplace else. Hey, just look at what Jesus did with 12. I can’t imagine we’d be having this conversation today if they all stayed put because they liked their community.

  • jaine

    Iam not a pastor. But works closely to one. I used to hear our pastor said ” I thot i lost 1 sheep when one got transferred, but now i have new sheep just like the one that i lost”. He smiled happily looking at me. I knew he was happy he just lost and found his shepperds. Later this evening we’re gonna have a combined church prayer gatherings. Evangelical, Good News & Orthodox (new version) . Each church will present their own prayer points and much of the prayers is about building a church. I find this not interesting at all, becos there are too many church buildings everywhere. My point is if we could have one mega church in one town and all the tithes & offerings will be pouring to one piggy bank,….es 1 problem solvedt noooooo it doesnt work that way! They simply enjoys the competition, this church is better than the other and the problem continues on and on… I bet when the bride does come, those kinda believers will be caught off alert.

  • JoeSindorf

    Come on guys, we are not your sheep.
    Jesus said to Peter, “feed my sheep”
    This is vital: we (sheep) belong to Christ, not to our pastor
    The pastor is called to feed us.
    If the pastor gets too caught up in how many sheep he “owns” and acts like a grand plantation master instead of a humble shepherd, then we the sheep get tired of being fed crap and move to greener pastures.
    You don’t have any sheep – God does – and you are charged to tend to us and help us grow.
    You’d have a bigger flock if you paid more attention to tending the sheep instead of buying bigger locks for the gates.

    • Dalia

      Absolutely correct. Not necessarily better food, but the truth. We want the truth!

    • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

      Joe, as I said to Carlos , “I hope you’ll read the article again, without this in mind: although the title has a bit of “tongue-and-cheek”, you’ll get no disagreement from me that the Church belong to Christ. Don’t miss the forest for the title :)”

      I’m not sure there is anything in this article about “buying bigger locks.” Would you agree that the points (1) Building Community, (2) Sharing Mission and (3) Being engaged as a part of the body of Christ, are what you call “tending the sheep”?

      What do you believe it means to tend the sheep?

  • Karen Barnard

    Great Article. May God help us to have more churches like this – not just to keep the sheep but to impact our communities with the Love of God and to Make Disciples…

    • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

      Thanks, @Karen!

  • Dr.G.

    If you guys (and girls) would spend as much time preaching Christ, and going out into the community and “winning souls,” you have an exciting church. Real Christians respond to a Holy Spirit empowered church, where the pastor/teacher spends time winning the lost, and doesn’t spend time on his assets, in his office on the Internet. “Go into all….” is still a command…not a suggestion. Get real pastors, and love Jesus enough to share Him, and don’t get caught up in the “lost sheep” business….and go out and win some more to Jesus before it is to late for them. Dr.G.

    • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

      Dr. G. I would be careful about using terms like “real Christians” and “real pastors”.

      It sounds like you have a problem with the pastors who are uninvolved in evangelism. I’m not sure what that has to do with this article. Could you help me understand?

  • Jerry Edmonds

    Belonging. Defined as “being in relation of.” Unless I missed it, that is what you wrote about above Chris, and that is what is missing in many churches. Being there and belonging are not synonymous. Intentionality in discipling and connecting must be a priority.

    Ownership. Churches (read: pastors and staff) must understand that the membership is not their own. They belong, as do the pastors and staff themselves, to Christ – whose body is much greater than our local congregation, or state assembly, or national convention. If we as pastors could accept that, we perhaps could move on toward…

    Cooperation. Not even WalMart is everything to everyone. It can’t be. We have to figure out why Christ has assembled this body in this place for this time and with these people. If we can look to what is best for Christ and our flock, and know through involvement and trust the specific abilities and ministries that other churches in our neighborhoods have, then we can work for gospel purposes with egos in check and the best intentions for our people at heart.

    • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

      Good thoughts, Jerry! I especially like the words you chose. I think I’ll use the term belonging that way in the future.

      Belonging: I love what you said here. It seems to me that “discipleship” can’t happen without belonging. Would you agree?

      Ownership: The biggest misunderstandings in the comments here come from this idea. While the Church leadership do not “own” the sheep, they definitely have a responsibility to them. Now, I would use that word in regard to #2, because these problems are smaller when everyone feels ownership of the mission.

      Cooperation: Great point! Not everyone belongs at my church. But I do believe there is a responsibility to help build a community where “belonging” can happen. Likewise, we should be quick to say that God is at work in many places, and encourage others to live out their calling.

  • Tim Wright

    If you are trying to build or grow a church, I can see where this possessiveness mentality creeps in, but we are called to His Kingdom and they are His sheep not ours. A lot of people moving from churches is not rebellion but immaturity and our Father knows the difference. The rebellious have not surrendered parts of their hearts to the Father and may or may not ever do this. The wheat and tares will always grow together.

  • Joel M.

    Hey Chris, what a great article and even the comments have ended up being a blessing… Is good to see that your heart is at building up the church and there maybe many interpretations of this but I think that is healthy too… God bless

    • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

      Thanks, Joel!

  • ServantHeart2012

    Guilty. I left a 125 year old mainline church a year and a half ago to participate in a church plant. The main reason was that the old church had become a country club rather than a place of worship with a mission. Two “legacy” families (who do give generously) controlled nearly every aspect of the church from service programming (they have regular seats and “their favorite” hymns) to facility use. Our new church is an additional campus of an established multi-campus church that has a clear (and oft repeated) mission and vision for its future. Their are no “legacy” families or individuals to kow-tow to. There is a universal desire to BE the church. If I am guilty in your eyes of “church hopping” so be it. I offer no apology.

    • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

      Hi @ServantHeart2012:disqus. I’m sorry if your find this accusatory. Following God’s calling is very different than church hopping. My hope is that your new venture will be a great opportunity to build community, live on mission and find your place within the body. Keep it up!

      • Chip+

        Very true. Most of the “church hopping” is driven from flesh and selfish, immature motivations, rather than honestly seeking an operating congro. Complacency and self are the biggest weapons used against the American Church.

  • http://Rickenba.ch/blog/en Ralph M. Rickenbach

    We teach our people that God plants them where he wants them. It is not there call which church to go to – it is His. That means that it is not ours either.

    Some of the people catch it, some don’t. Some leave with a call from God. But the ones that stay know it is there place.

    • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

      Good stuff, Ralph. It really does all come down to calling. Part of Christian community is always commissioning individuals to go where God is calling them.

      That does not, however, mean that Church leaders can get out of the call to creates the type of engaging, mission driven community described here.

  • Palma

    Hi Chris. Thank you for this very inspiring message. Please would you advice what program you used to write the text over the picture of the sheep? Its lovely.

  • Pstr Rudy

    Thank you Chris and God bless your ministry ! I would like someone to contact me thru email on help with a broker. We are a loving truth teaching church that does endless outreach endeavors that seem to be a negative tp banks. We are attempting to purchase a building nearby a small leap bigger for more outreach endeavors. The mortgage cost will not put us away from our current renting amount. God has blessed us to have a 6 year perfect payment record. Please send us some help. Our congregation has people on fixed incomes and once a month incomes but we have the Love of Christ ! Pastor Rudolph Palmer SrPastorPalmer@comcast.net
    Faith Revival Church

  • Tmacman

    Great article, but I’d like to have some “how to” included. I’ve pastored the same church for 25 years and have tried boundless things to create community and as your article states, they are attended by a small percentage of the church family and don’t become deep and meaningful, but just “another program”. Please write a follow up article with effective ways to accomplish the three key ingredients for a sticky community. Thank you.

  • avoiceinthewilderness

    The problem is not community in a horizontal dimension it is cutting Holy Spirit out by an over emphasis on pastoral teaching. It’s a vertical cutting off the umbilical cord of God!
    Teaching is good but when the Spirit is quenched in order to move the schedule along God leaves eventually and when he leaves, or withdraws his presence or grace, the sheep, as the elitist like to refer to them, eventually figure it out and they follow the glory or the crowd depending on their level off maturity elsewhere.

    • Pjdoulos

      …God leaves?

      Sounds like you need some biblical teaching…

      Sorry–couldn’t resist :)

      • avoiceinthewilderness

        Evident;y you have never been in a dead church or perhaps have never left one. The phrase was intended to highlight the idea that one can preach a sermon and have no grace at all on it. This is why the day after standing behind the pulpit for 45 minutes a ‘pastor’ finds no one remembers what was said.
        God does leave churches, His presence departs, the glory goes adios or it was never there to begin with. This has nothing to do with His omnipresence and everything to do with the hearts of the people. If you want to be technical about where God is one could say he is just as much in a synagogue or mosque as he is in the church you attend.
        It the presence we, or at least I, covet in a Christian church, a real person who manifests himself.

    • Chance

      Bro, not even close. There are several problems with what you just said:
      1) Always a bad idea to downplay pastoral teaching. Jesus asked the Father to “Sanctify them in the truth. Your word is truth. (Jn 17)” See also the great commission, “…teaching them to obey…”
      2) “Sheep” isn’t an elitist term. Jesus said “My sheep hear my voice” and the Father will “separate the sheep from the goats”.
      3) The Church is NOT the nation of Israel. Lets put our Bibles together better than that. The Old Covenant is not the New Covenant. Jesus says “I will never leave you or forsake you” and Paul, “who can separate us from the love of God? (Rom 8). We have been “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph 1), God has placed his Spirit “within us” (Ez 36). God’s presence doesn’t “leave in the cloud” like it did with OT Israel.

      • avoiceinthewilderness

        Indeed very close Bro.
        1. Never a bad idea to remind men that its not about their teaching when the teaching is all about them and when you quench what God is doing to bring forth your weeks work its all about you. That is not pastoral teaching its idolatry. But your argument is classic straw man, I did not downplay teaching I was teaching the pastor’s ‘word’ should take a backseat to the person of the Holy Spirit and what he desires.
        2. Sheep is an elitist term when the ‘pastors’ call the believers in front of them sheep and forget that they are also sheep.
        3. It is not a matter of covenant its a matter of who are you honoring. As I wrote to another fellow below…God does leave churches, His presence departs, the glory goes adios or it was never there to begin with. This has nothing to do with His omnipresence and everything to do with the hearts of the people. If you want to be technical about where God is one could say he is just as much in a synagogue or mosque as he is in the church you attend.It’s the presence we, or at least I, covet in a Christian church, a real person who manifests himself in real and often practical ways if one actually believes the actual Bible.

        • Chance

          1) In ur original post u generalized. This is one of those situations where what u said in ur response should have been said in ur original comment.
          2) 1 Pt 5:1-4. Ur right that we’re all sheep, but some are also shepherds. I’m not saying some ppl use this language in a domineering sense, but don’t call it “elitist” if Paul uses the very same language.
          3) It is most definitely a matter of covenant. See Ez 36:26, Jer 31:31-34, and Heb 8 & 10 (also Eph 1:13-14). Don’t let ur experience dictate ur doctrine.

          • avoiceinthewilderness

            1, That thought occurred to me also after I wrote point 1.
            2. I just heard a sermon a few weeks ago where the elitist attitude was quite clear. It has stuck with me ever since. A major emphasis of his point was shepherds do not reproduce sheep do and it sounded like a way to justify avoiding soul winning. Shepherds are still sheep, that never changes.
            3. I disagree with you. Presence of God and doctrinal perfection are often unrelated. God responds to hunger and love. If your heart is ripe and ready he will make whatever doctrinal corrections are needed.

    • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

      I’m not sure what you’re arguing for or against here. Are you saying that churches put too much emphasis on preaching? Or not enough space for the Holy Spirit?

      • avoiceinthewilderness

        In the churches I have been in it looks clear to me that most of the Pastors have acquired a taste for making do without allowing the Holy Spirit to be Lord of the church. I have seen this time and time again. Its become a one man band with God’s only plan and if the Spirit is moving generally or the anointing is on someone other than the pastor it is quenched. Their sermon is not our God and often their exegesis is surely not of God. That is what I meant in part by saying the vertical umbilical cord is cut off. They are seemingly severed from Christ.
        But if Barna, and other similar organizations, reports on the typical prayer life of leadership is true then one can find at least part of the answer right there. 8-30 minutes a day is just not enough, maybe to be an administrator but not to be led by the Spirit in all things. And that’s really only applicable for the ones who have matured to the point where they actually believe in the Spirit leading and doing things in His house. The rest can pray all day and still miss God due to bad doctrine and unbelief.

        • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

          Good points! Could you help me understand how they connect to the article?

          • avoiceinthewilderness

            Your article’s headline is ‘3 Ways to keep your Sheep from being Stolen.” My points above revolve around the issue of people leaving churches, which I took as your subject matter, and what I feel is a root cause for this. Sheep are not stolen they leave.
            Some further thoughts.
            Lip service to the person of Holy Spirit is eventually going to be a factor why any church closes its doors or becomes an abode of the virtual dead.
            The church started with Jesus command to wait for the Spirit and endured as a power filled entity because they walked with the Spirit and maintained relationship with Him. I know we all know this, but if how we do church is the model used as the rain gauge, it is hard to escape the conclusion we have trivialized or ignored this simple truth.
            Waiting for the Spirit…how many people do that until He shows up and speaks. They waited for ten days we, on a good day, might wait for 2 minutes and then alas we must move on with our program. We call it a ‘service’ but whom do we serve?

          • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

            Again, good points, but I’m not sure they connect to the article. The editors here choose the title, and I can only speak to the content of the article.

            But yeah, I agree that we can all benefit from a more intentional focus of the Holy Spirit as a whole.

            I hope you’ll let me know what you think of the content of the article, too.

  • Mike Spencer

    The sheep are hopping from church to church because the thing that temporarily binds them together has more to do with the “super-awesome” show, or the personality of the multi-site preacher than the gospel. “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us, and indeed our fellowship is with the father, and with His Son Jesus Christ” 1 John 1:2 NASB We have fellowship with one another because of the gospel, not because we contrive special missions for each local body, or try to create one more bound to fail utopia on earth. Preacher, stop feeding the sheep with your personality, or your psychological palliatives in the form of self-help talks and the like! These are the basis of the current idolatry that plagues the American church. Feed them on the Word centered around Jesus and his work. Help them to grow strong on true bread and true drink, and Christ will draw all men to Himself, He will make them fishers of men, and all glory will go to the name that is above all names.

    • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

      Hi Mike,

      I’m going to assume that you are not referring to this article when you say, “We have fellowship with one another because of the gospel, not because we contrive special missions for each local body, or try to create one more bound to fail utopia on earth.”

      First off, you have to define what you mean by “the gospel.” Personally, I agree with Lesslie Newbiggin’s statement the Church is the hermeneutic of the gospel. So your statement needs a little more flesh.

      Secondly “contrive special missions” is very different than having a shared sense of mission. If you’ve ever noticed the difference in the sense of community between a small group in someone’s living room and those on mission trip together, you know what I mean.

      Third, I totally agree that we shouldn’t try to create utopia. But we should try to live out the teachings of Jesus together. If there isn’t a notable difference in the lives of a gathered group of believers from their surrounding culture, then they have realized the countercultural nature of the teaching of Jesus.

      • Mike Spencer

        Hi Chris,
        I guess I’m referring to the trend of local churches feeling they need to have a brand that they need to market, and a mission that can be summed up in the statement “We’re gonna’ change the world” or “We’re gonna’ build a church that un-churched people love to attend”. Unfortunately, this branding and mission have more to do with the Peter Drucker modeling and mission than they do with the mission of the Church.

        You’re right Chris, we do have to define what we mean when we say gospel because the American Evangelical church seems to think it’s just fine to have the preacher preach about psychologically overcoming your problems, preach about himself, or self-improvement (See Rick Warren’s latest distraction, “The Daniel Diet”. Never have so many sheep been so fat yet so starved.

        Interesting that you should bring up Newbiggin, his very clever statement sums up much that is wrong in the American church. First, that we think there is more than one gospel. As Newbiggin discovered, the liberal church had little to offer beyond sending warmed and well fed people on a trip to hell because belief in Christ and His work were not as important as their notion of social justice.

        No, the American church is bored with the actual Gospel that God, through His grace alone has imbued His chosen with faith in Christ and His saving work alone as witnessed in Holy Scripture alone to the Glory of God alone. Consequently, the “hermeneutic” of the gospel is bringing a curse upon itself because it is another Gospel than that of Christ which it preaches.

        When the local church returns to God’s word as understood in its fullest revelation through Christ and His work to save us from our sins, then we will truly be the hermeneutic of His Gospel, having abandoned a form of godliness that denies His power.

        • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton


          Good thoughts!

          What do you think it actually looks like when a church “returns to God’s word as understood in its fullest revelation through Christ and His work to save us from our sins”?

          I think of Newbiggin’s statement the theological corollary to Marshall McLuhan statement that “the medium is the message.” My hope in this article is to describe real world actions that a church who embodies the gospel would do.

          I doubt anyone on this site would disagree that the gospel is important. My hunch is that when we live a shared life that embodies the gospel, it’d be really hard to jump from church to church.


  • Caroline

    I don’t think it’s a problem as this is God’s church that we are building, not A or B or C’s church…

    • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

      I totally agree, Caroline. However, there are such things as “best practices” that we can learn from each other.

    • Angela Warren


  • Boyd Martin

    Hey Folks… we have no megachurchs where I live but we do have about 100 churches per 20-30 mile radius. I would rather title this article. “How to close the revolving door” We have churches that have grown because od ‘dynamic’ preaching and ‘dynamic modern’ worship. But other than that these churches are hollow. This article hit the nail on the ehad when it comes to the necessary fundamentals all church leaders should have on their dashboard.

  • George

    This is a very good article, with good points.

    It also needs to be noted that there will continue to be (as I call them) MegaWalMart Churches that set up shop and do business in areas where they think business will be good. They’ll always talk about how it’s all about God, but the truth is, it’s all about doing business in a certain way. They want numbers. Big numbers – of both attendance and money.

    And like WalMart does wherever they open new stores, these MegaWalMart Churches ARE going to do a certain amount of damage to the churches that are already in the area. They will do enough damage to close some of them. And they will do so shamelessly. In fact, they’ll brag about it – but in a Christianized passive-aggressive sort of way.

    What’s to be done about it? I think this article addresses that. Do the best we can, at doing what we know is right, and stay the course.

  • Frank

    I don’t see a problem with church hopping at all. As a matter of fact I like to attend different churches. I love to see the many different ways that people worship The Lord. Although I have a home church it’s refreshing to meet other Christians. The reason churches don’t like it is obvious, money. Mega churches do a good job at making people feel good, but on the whole it feels very fake.

  • PTH

    “But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.
    8 He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.
    It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jer 17:7-8

    It is obvious that many here have fallen to the lie that church only wants their “money”. That, of course, points to an issue in their own lives when money is the issue. Money is just a thing…won’t last and its best purpose is fulfilled when used for the kingdom of God.

    There are many blessings from being planted in a house of God. Trees that are continually transplanted from one spot to the next are weak and bear little or no fruit. That is because they are unhealthy. Of course it is easier to move from one church to the next because then you never have to work on the areas in your life that cause difficulty or discomfort if you don’t stay in relationship with people who can hold you accountable.

    As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Prov 27:17

    The only way to have friction that sharpens is for us to be in continual, close relationship with other in a church home.

    I really don’t get why people just hop from one church to the next. They will never be able to be a part of the body where they are supplying what others need and then others supply what they need. They are like some sort of weird sci-fi flick by being disembodied parts just floating around.

    And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.1 Corinthians 12:28
    Having established believers’ unity in their diversity, Paul went on to describe this diversity by a list (not complete) of various offices and gifts. These gifts are given to the church by God, who has appointed those whom he has chosen to serve in various capacities.

    If you are not committed to being in fellowship in a church and simply wander here and there to find what tickles you this week, the question could be are you really a part of the body?

  • DrO

    I struggled with the article at the beginning. When we are challenged to “make disciples,” why are we referring to disciples as “sheep?” I find the metaphor inappropriate given most pastors’ desires to see their congregations grow beyond “sheep” stage. I don’t know that scriptures refer to disciples of Jesus as being “sheep” of anyone–other than Jesus. OK–enough of that. Second, I also struggle with the thought that I “belong” to a pastor. I belong to Jesus, mind, body and soul. I may express that devotion in one setting or another. Or, as another individual has commented, I may choose to worship in a variety of settings to experience the Body of Christ in a number of ways. I do believe, however, that the ideas the author captured for creating a meaningful Christian community are valid and worthy of application. Just please do not call me a “sheep” or assume that I am somehow tethered to the congregation that you lead.