General Assembly
of the Church of God
in Michigan

"equipping local congregations
to extend the Kingdom of God"

December 12, 2016


The older I grow, the more I know, and the more I want to forget. My wife says my brain is a warehouse of useless information. She’s right. Case in point: I remember old slogans. A slogan is a motto designed for repetition to engage a target audience. They’re short, memorable phrases to draw attention to a product.

My first introduction to the slogan was an old black-and-white TV ad with John Cameron Swayze strapping a watch to an outboard motor, then saying, “Timex. It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” Say what you want, it got my attention. Like the Alka-Seltzer jingle: “Plop! Plop! Fizz! Fizz! Oh, what a relief it is!”

Perhaps the more prolific of slogans belong to Coca-Cola: “The Pause that Refreshes” was created in 1929. They have used “It’s the Real Thing,” “This is It,” “Always Coca-Cola,” and many more. Their current slogan is “Taste the Feeling!” McDonald’s spends millions on new slogans, like, “We Do It All for You,” coined in 1975; “You Deserve a Break Today,” and today they use “I’m Loving It.” Toyota went from “Oh, What a Feeling!” (1979) to “Who Could Ask for Anything More” (1985), to today’s slogan, “Let’s Go Places.”

Did that trip down memory lane bring back the jingles that went with the slogans? Ad-men (and women) have learned to use every conceivable tool – words, music, images – to get us to buy their products. Why, I wonder, has the Church been so slow to grasp those tools?

A Wesleyan congregation in my community went through a period of great growth when they got their slogan – and mission statement – out to everyone in the area: “Bring ‘em in. Sit ‘em down. Raise ‘em up. Send ‘em out.” It was a great way to encapsulate evangelism, worship, discipleship, and mission. Other slogans I’ve picked up on are “Real Hope for Real People,” and “Compassion. Community. Commitment.” Bryon Bledsoe at C3 Church in North Carolina is leading his people through an expansion program called, “Love Loud.” That makes me want to know more.

I’m not claiming that creating a slogan – or changing the one you have – will result in thousands flocking to your door. But it seems to me that PR folks - who are a lot smarter than me - know that a slogan is an important part of the total campaign of motivating your people and engaging your community.

You should “Be All That You Can Be” because “A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste.”

Any suggestions for a new slogan?

Rev. James L. Sparks,
Church Health Minister

December 5, 2016


We live in a society where we are increasingly losing control of our many aspects of our lives. This was brought home to me recently when I “Goggled” for a place to buy a plaque for our wall. I found the proper website, and bought the item. Within hours my inbox was filled to overflowing from vendors who wanted to sell me hundreds of wall ornaments, plaques, and memorabilia. Whatever happens to the privacy of shopping for only one item?

The one way where people still have the right of choice is in the selection of their church. More and more millennials are deserting the church of their parents and grandparents to go “church shopping” for a congregation that meets their particular needs.

The Pew Research Foundation recently completed a study on the behavioral patterns of congregational members and guests, specifically in endeavoring to determine why people visit, and return, and become involved in a particular congregation.

    This is good news in that a significant number of people recognize and encourage the importance of the ministry of exhortation and the primacy of the pulpit. This is bad news in that far too many of today’s pastors fail to recognize this and approach the pulpit poorly prepared scholastically and spiritually. Unless we have immersed ourselves in the Word, been baptized in prayer, been convicted by the Spirit, and studied intellectually can never be present with passion and compassion to a people who are daily struggling with tremendous burdens and overwhelming problems.
    I’ve rarely been in a congregation that has said anything other than, “We’re a friendly church.” When I enter a sanctuary without the pastor, I usually have to find my own way to the coffee, the worship folder, and the sanctuary. “We’re a friendly church” usually means, “We’re friendly to one another.” Lyle Schaller reminds us that, “If you’ve been pastor for less than three years, you can blame problems on the previous pastor. After three years, it’s your problem.” I’ve found that to be accurate. The congregation – eventually – reflects the age, personality, and behavior of the pastor. If the leader isn’t friendly to all, then the people will have no model to follow.
    Three out of four church-seekers indicate the worship style is a factor in church selection. This means that those who prefer a long, loud, tear-filled experience will seek that out. Those who want liturgy, creeds, and rituals will seek that out. The pastor of any given church cannot predict the tastes of his or her visitors. What we can do is to find a style that fits us and our people and stick to it. To have a service that is markedly different week-to-week or month-to-month creates a fragmented view of who we are – both to our visitors and to ourselves.
    More and more Americans find that there’s a church nearby that meets their needs just as well as the church miles away. For right or wrong, many people are putting less importance of doctrinal position than on geographical position. In a week of carpooling, chauffeuring, and commuting, there is a relief in a Sunday when that’s not a requirement.
    More than half of Americans consider the total scope of ministry to their children to be of vital importance. There exists a field that is ripe for those who are called into children’s ministries and for the church that has geared its programs and missions around children. The bad news is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so with the requirements for child safety and the litigations involving the lack of that safety. Day Care Ministries and sports activities are re-looking at the extent and personnel of their ministries in the light of these changing signals in our society.
    The number one reason a new person enters a church building is because they have been invited. The number one reason they stay is because they become connected to others in that ecclesiastical community. The same relationships that help to lead people to Christ are the ones that help them mature in their faith. Churches that devote time, programs, and staff to assimilation are finding the investment is worthwhile.
    Gen X and Millennials are people who want to make change happen. These people are very rarely “sermon tasters,” but want to get involved, and the quicker the better. It is important to have relevant and meaningful ministries in place that can be open-ended enough to always need new volunteers. Preparing sandwiches for the homeless, working in cooperation with Habitat for Humanity or local shelters and community missions is a “quick and easy” way to plug newcomers into helpful ministries.

How are you helping your newcomers to make the right choice?

Rev. James L. Sparks,
Church Health Minister

November 28, 2016

What Brought You to Church?

There's a Monday routine. By 10 a.m., my secretary has compiled the Connection Cards from Sunday's services, and there's a list of guests. We send out a letter in the afternoon mail. A lady comes to the church and fills a bag full of homemade cookies along with church brochures and a hand-written note to be delivered by a volunteer that evening. I also send out a hand-written note.

It's our Monday routine. Every Monday.

Within a week I have made an appointment to visit them in their home and respond to any questions. And I ask them a question: "What brought you to this church?"

This is a different question than "Why did you choose to stay?" The first question is really a PR question; it pertains to reputation and credibility; non-statistical data that has to do with perception rather than reality.

Some of the answers were measurable, like our location was near their new home, or their children were recently enrolled in our day care program, or a relative attends the church.

Most of the responses were, however, indicative of the attitude of the parishioners. The overwhelming majority of answers were, "Someone invited me." People rarely go where they're not wanted, and that includes church. And most folks are polite enough to respond to a sincere invitation.

One of the key principles that many have discovered is that the friendliness and attitude of the pastor eventually affects the friendliness and attitude of the congregation. That genuine concern needs to be prayerfully translated to congregational guests. Most churches are friendly, but only friendly to one another. That attitude needs to be for all persons in worship.

Here's an idea: create a Triad Promise. The pastor promises to give a thoughtful, biblical, and personal message each Sunday. The worship leader promises to give a God-honoring worship experience. The congregation promises to be friendly and open to guests -- because next week the guests may be the friends that they have invited to church.

What has worked for you?

Rev. James L. Sparks,
Church Health Minister

November 21, 2016


My friend and I spent two weeks mountain Scotland. To travel through Scotland is an adventure in itself; the scenery is breath-taking. We climbed the Cairngorms north of Edinburgh and Ben Nevis, the U.K.'s tallest mountain near Port William. We spent several days in Edinburgh after climbing Arthur's Seat just south of the city.

We toured the ancient Edinburgh Castle, and found, near St. Margaret's Chapel, Mons Meg. The cannon was built in 1449 and is huge, even by modern standards with a barrel of 20" in diameter and can carry 400 pound ball over two miles. Mons Meg (named after the Belgium city of Mons, where it was built) was rarely used, and during a ceremonial firing too much powder was used and the barrel burst. It's now relegated to the museum in old Edinburgh Castle. I walked around the cannon and marveled at its size and power, only to realize that it's only value is in scrap metal because of its flaw.

As pastors, we want our congregations to be healthy and grow, to positively affect our community, to transform lives and introduce people to the saving grace of Jesus. If that is our goal, we should use every weapon in our arsenal. We should pull out our "big guns" and fire them repeatedly against the armies of the Adversary of our souls.

Our largest – and most effective – weapon is the cannon of prayer. Like the Scottish cannon, prayer possesses both the caliber and range needed in our battle with Satan, yet I find that many pastors have relegated its use to the "Wednesday Prayer Meeting," or a quick hand-holding session before morning worship.

Many congregations spend the first part of any meeting "receiving prayer requests." The sad fact is: If we spent as much time actually praying as we spent talking about praying, we would have changed the world.

Prayer is the cannon that can reach beyond the range of our vision with a power far greater than we can imagine. The real miracle of prayer is not that God answers our prayer; it is that God hears our prayer. The greater miracle is that our prayers for lost souls are already on the heart of God and He is eager to hear and answer.

Our prayers for our congregations and our communities are more powerful and far-reaching than we can begin to imagine. The challenge to pastors is to take the cannon of prayer out of the museum and use it in battle.

Let us follow our own admonition: "Let us pray."

Rev. James L. Sparks,
Church Health Minister

November 14, 2016

Where You At?

I broke my humorous last February. (It's my upper arm bone, and it's not funny!). After two surgeries, I find myself in rehab three days a week, first stretching my muscles with all kinds of movements, then strengthening the muscles by lifting weights. (I can almost bench press a Volkswagen.).

Since there's often six people doing reps of exercises -- ten at a stretch, then a short rest -- and only two or three therapists, it's not unusual for one of the therapist's to yell across the room, "Jim, where you at?" Yes, I know she wants to know how many repetitions of that particular exercise I've completed, but I respond, "Right before the 'at.' Don't end a sentence in a preposition!" Most of the clients chuckle. Some can't because they're straining through their own exercises.

Still, it's a legitimate question; one that pastors should ask; and one that pastors should be able to answer.

Let me explain: Remember the class at school where you dropped a bean into a styrofoam cup of potting soil, and then watched as the bean -- slowly -- burst open and a root began to dig into the soil. Eventually a stem came out the other end and began to push through the soil and climb into the air. Then we saw leaves, then branches, then a cluster of beans that began to grow.

The Church -- like that bean -- is a living organism, and, as such, should be growing. We sometimes fall into the mistaken belief that if we aren't baptizing people by the hundreds then our congregation is not growing. Not all congregations -- indeed, not all Christians -- are always in the same place as others.

There are stages of growth: The tilling of the soil, the application of fertilizer, the planting of seed, the waiting for the rain, the eradication of weeds, the patience of growth, the bearing of fruit, the celebration of the harvest. None of these stages happen overnight, and often require an agonizing amount of sweat, money, time, and patience.

Yet, so many pastors beat themselves up -- along with their congregations -- if we can't match another congregation's numbers.

It's important that we know God's grace intersects with His people at many places along the journey.

So...where you at?

Rev. James L. Sparks,
Church Health Minister

November 2, 2016

The Church of God in Michigan wants to interact with our pastors throughout the state. While we would love to spend face-to-face time with everyone each week, that's just not possible. But, thanks to these new-fangled internet inventions, we can communicate together within the state.

Our desire is to send an article to Michigan pastors and associates every week. They will center around the health of the pastor and the congregation, and how they grow for the purposes of the Kingdom.

While Dr. Bill Jones, State Pastor, and Rev. Jim Sparks, Church Health Minister, will share the writing responsibilities, we are hoping that all pastors can contribute. Some may wish to give feedback to the articles by asking questions or wanting elaborations. Others may want to write an article to guide us in our collective thinking about a certain issues.

While we are endeavoring to make this available to Lead Pastors and their Associates, we may not have correct email addresses for everyone. We want our leaders to send us email addresses of their associates, or any others they want to share this enterprise.

We hope that this form of communication -- both ways -- will be helpful to your and your ministry.

Dr. William H. Jones, State Pastor

Rev. James L. Sparks, Church Health Minister